Home History of Hymns: "How Lovely, Lord, How Lovely"

History of Hymns: "How Lovely, Lord, How Lovely"

Arlo Duba

Arlo Duba

“How Lovely, Lord, How Lovely”
by Arlo Duba
The Faith We Sing, No. 2042

How lovely, Lord, how lovely
is your abiding place;
my soul is longing, fainting,
to feast upon your grace.

The sparrow finds a shelter,
a place to build her nest;
and so your temple calls us
within its walls to rest.*

* © 1983 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For the complete text, see http://www.hymnary.org/text/how_lovely_lord_how_lovely

Paraphrasing the psalms in a metrical form for singing is a tradition that extends back to John Calvin (1509-1564) and the publication of the first edition of his Genevan Psalter (1539). Obviously, the psalms have been sung for centuries in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The composition of metrical versions (paraphrases of psalms in a set poetic meter and usually with rhyme) is a relatively recent innovation derived from the Protestant Reformation. John Calvin wanted to put the Scripture into the mouths and hearts of the people in their vernacular language.

Within a few years, English-language metrical psalters began to appear, including Thomas Sternhold’s (d. 1549) popular psalter, which had numerous editions beginning in 1549, and the Scottish Psalter (1564). One English-language collection that included metrical psalms actually predates the Genevan Psalter. This collection, entitled Goostly psalms and spirituall songes drawen out the holy Scripture (c. 1535/1536) by Bible translator Miles Coverdale (1488-1569), was based in part on versions of the translations of the psalms by Martin Luther. This collection differs from the post-Calvin psalters in that it contained other material, and the psalms were probably for private rather than public worship.

As many recent hymnwriters have demonstrated, the practice of composing metrical psalms is alive and well centuries later. Arlo Dean Duba (b. 1929) is among those who have contributed to this form. The South Dakota native grew up in a Bohemian Presbyterian farming family whose roots in the Dakotas extend back to the 1880s. His education includes degrees from the University of Dubuque (BA, 1952) and Princeton Theological Seminary (BD, 1955; PhD, 1960). He continued with post-doctoral study at I’Institut Supérieur de Liturgie in Paris (1968-1969), a year that he describes as “life changing.” “This was the only place,” he notes, “that one could study Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox worship.”

Following his ordination as a Presbyterian minister (1955), Dr. Duba held a variety of pastoral and educational positions, the latter including chaplain and professor of religion at Westminster Choir College, New Jersey (1957-1968), when, while on sabbatical, Princeton Seminary President James I. McCord invited him to lunch and said, “Arlo, I want you to come to Princeton Seminary and straighten out the chapel!” He served as Director of Admissions and Director of the Chapel at Princeton Theological Seminary (1969-1982). It was at Princeton that he worked with Erik Routley, who had been invited for a one-year appointment as Visiting Professor of Church Music and Chapel Organist. The rich relationship between the Dubas and the Routleys led to his invitation to serve on the planning committee of the hymnal Rejoice in the Lord (1985), edited by Erik Routley.

Dr. Duba then served as Professor of Worship and Dean of the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary (1982-1992). As a demonstration of his leadership in the field of liturgy, he was a founding member of the North American Academy of Liturgy (1974) and was active in the international liturgical forum Societas Liturgica. Within the Reformed tradition his service includes a primary role in the founding of the Association for Reformed & Liturgical Worship (2004). These days, he no longer pursues musical interests: “And at my retirement, my academic writing interest came in to take [the] place [of music composition]. That continues to this day, and I now enjoy writing text, hearing music, and especially hearing the Philadelphia Orchestra.”

He has numerous joint publications including Praise God – Worship Through the Year (1979) with Mary Faith Carson and Worship in the Community of Faith (1982) with four others. Most recently he has authored Presbyterian Worship in the Twentieth Century (2014).

A close examination of the metrical paraphrase, “How Lovely, Lord, How Lovely,” reveals a careful correlation with Psalm 84. Stanza one of the hymn corresponds closely to verses 1 – 4 of the psalm. Stanza two draws upon verse 10. Stanza three relates to verse 11. The following comparison between the psalm in the New Revised Standard Version with a portion of stanza two reveals the skill of the poet:

Psalm 84:11 (NRSV)

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.

Stanza two

In your blest courts to worship,
O God, a single day
is better than a thousand
if I from you should stray.

I’d rather keep the entrance
and claim you as my Lord
than revel in the riches
the ways of sin afford.*


Dr. Duba discussed his work with the psalter: “For me this all started with the Methodists. I was much involved with Elise Shoemaker. She was a good friend of the Methodist professor when I was Dean and Professor of Worship at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary . . . I had been in music from high school, directing the seminary choir when the Professor of Church Music went on a sabbatical, being an interim choir director in First Presbyterian in Poughkeepsie, NY, having music published. Elise soon had me in the palm of her hand. I still have several copies of [the Upper Room publication] Alive Now dated July-August 1981. She published four of my things in that issue where her contributions predominate. The Upper Room staff had a musical emphasis for ten or fifteen years, maybe more, from the 1970s. I had quite a number of things published by them. “How Lovely, Lord, How Lovely,” written in 1984, was in a sense, my dissertation!” It appears in at least twenty-two hymnals including two Canadian, one Australian, and a Japanese hymnal (in translation).

He participated on the Psalter Committees of both the United Methodist and Presbyterian Churches. Many of his metrical psalms are the result of his participation on the Psalter Task Force for the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) from 1981-1984. His most widely published creation is his version of Psalm 84, “How lovely, Lord, how lovely” (1984). It was one of four of his psalm paraphrases included in The Presbyterian Hymnal (1990). It was composed, according to hymnologist LindaJo McKim, because other versions of the psalms “did not seem to carry with them the understanding of God’s house being a wonderfully pleasing place in which to be.” The text was prepared with Merle’s Tune (1983) by Hal Hopson (b. 1933) in mind. It was published in 1990 for The Presbyterian Hymnal.