History of Hymns: "God the Spirit, Guide and Guardian"
"God the Spirit, Guide and Guardian"
Carl P. Daw Jr.
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 648
God the Spirit, guide and guardian,
wind-sped flame and hovering dove,
breath of life and voice of prophets,
sign of blessing, power of love:
Give to those who lead your people
fresh anointing of your grace.
Send them forth as bold apostles
to your church in every place.*
The Rev. Carl P. Daw Jr., an Episcopal priest and professor of hymnology at United Methodist-affiliated Boston University School of Theology, began writing hymns in 1980. “God the Spirit, Guide and Guardian” is found in his book A Year of Grace: Hymns for the Church Year (1990).
The text is a response to God’s call to a consecrated life. It was the final new text approved for the 1989 United Methodist Hymnal. Dr. Daw wrote the hymn as a gift to fellow Episcopal hymn writer Jeffery Rowthorn for his consecration as Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Connecticut in 1987, when it was sung for the first time.
In the first stanza, the third person of the Trinity is addressed first because of the traditional prayers associated with ordination rites, such as “Veni Creator Spiritus” (“Come, Creator Spirit”) and “Veni Sancte Spiritus” (“Come, Holy Spirit”). Dr. Daw notes that “Guide and guardian” is his attempt to paraphrase the Greek term Paraklete.
“Wind-sped flame” refers to the first Christian Pentecost, while “hovering dove” recalls the Baptism of Christ. “Breath of life” echoes the creation narrative. “Voice of the prophets” refers to the Nicene Creed, which is used in the consecration rite. “Sign of blessing” refers to the gift of the Holy Spirit at Baptism, and “power of love” is both a conflation of Jesus’ words to his apostles (Acts 1:8) and a quote from the hymn “Come down, O love divine.”
This stanza is a petition that concludes with words from the Episcopal consecration prayer, describing the Spirit “with whom [Christ] endowed the apostles, and by whom your Church is built up in every place.”
The second stanza is addressed to the second person of the Trinity. Christ as the Good Shepherd is the central image, invoked in the consecration rite. In the consecration of a bishop, the elect promises to carry out pastoral responsibilities “in the name of Christ, the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.” The present edition of the fifth line (“all pastors”) makes reference to the root meaning of the term “bishop”; in the original text, the reading was “all bishops.”
The third stanza is directed to the first person of the Trinity. God is addressed in short phrases using gender-free language. “Life-bestower,” used in the evening hymn Phos hilaron in the early Greek church, is an attribute of Christ. “Womb of mercy” reminds us that the Hebrew and Aramaic words for mercy are derived from a root meaning of the word “womb.”
“Giving and forgiving” was taken by Dr. Daw from the third stanza of Henry Van Dyke’s hymn “Joyful, joyful, we adore thee.” “Oversee” and “overlook” are a play on the Greek word for bishop, episkopos, meaning “overseer.” The feminine pronoun used for the Church is a reference to the Church as the Bride of Christ.
The first three stanzas call on particular attributes of the Trinity. The final stanza calls for the Triune God to “bless the full range of ministries entrusted to the church.” According to Dr. Daw, the diversity of laypersons and their ministries is a reflection of the munificence of God, however the sum of these gifts still falls short of God’s full glory.
Because of his background in literature and theology, Dr. Daw is able to draw on biblical, historical, liturgical and literary precedents in his texts. He paraphrases biblical and liturgical passages with great clarity and effectiveness.