"Mountains Are All Aglow"
by Ok In Lim
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 86
Mountains are all aglow with autumn colors so bright;
Rivers are filled with water, giving life to our days.
Golden fields wave their praise to God’s bountiful harvest;
Gratefully, skyward arising, hear our joyous songs of praise!*
A season of harvest unites peoples around the world. Sharing the bounty of God’s creation is part of human expectations and cycles of living. “Mountains are all aglow” is the Asian equivalent of a favorite harvest hymn for Euro-North American Christians, “Come, ye thankful people, come” by British Anglican, Henry Alford.
Those of us who live in the northern hemisphere can identify with the images found in the Korean hymn “Mountains are all aglow.” “Autumn colors” and “golden fields” are a part of my childhood memories growing up in the upper Midwest United States. The ripened harvest itself becomes an act of praise to God, the Creator of all harvests. The first stanza echoes Psalm 65:9-10: “You take care of the land. You water it and make it fertile. Your streams are always filled with water. That’s how you make the crops grow. You pour rain on the plowed fields; you soak the fields with water. You make the ground soft with rain, and you make the young plants grow” (ESV).**
Stanza two invokes images of orchards full of “luscious, ripened new fruit.” A Reformed understanding of the sovereignty of God comes through in the line: “Sun and rain by the Lord’s design shall come at proper time.” The following line emphasizes that human partnership with God: “Working hard, God has given us reasons for deep gratitude.”
Stanza three emphasizes the strenuous effort that it takes to plant the seeds in early spring and to prepare for the “plentiful harvest.” Once again, the role of humanity in creation involves, “Working hard, tilling God’s earth; making preparation.”
In stanza four, planting the seeds for the harvest becomes a spiritual metaphor for “planting God’s word deep in each heart.” As we are “trusting in God’s promises,” we feed not only our bodies, but also our spiritual appetites.
Hymns from Asia are recent additions to our hymnals. The author of the Korean text was Ok Im Lim (b. 1915), a graduate of Nora Teacher’s College in Japan during that country’s occupation of Korea. She became a professor of literature and dean of economics at Kunkook University, receiving the Asian Freedom award. The author of nine books, Lim also accepted the Korean Women’s Literature award.
This hymn first appeared in the 1967 Korean Hymnal and later in the 1989 United Korean Hymnal. The original Korean text was translated by Hae Jong Kim (b. 1935), the first Korean United Methodist bishop (1992-2005). Kim’s translation into English first appeared in the United Methodist Asian hymnal supplement, Hymns from the Four Winds (1983), edited by I-to Loh. Kim prepared a new translation in 1988 for The United Methodist Hymnal; and Hope Omachi-Kawashima, a member of the Hymnal Revision Committee, versified it.
The lilting melody by Jae Hoon Park (b. 1922) in triple meter is reminiscent of Korean folk songs. Park was born in Kangwondo, Korea, and received his education at Tokyo Music School and Central Theological Seminary in Seoul. He received further education in the United States at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis and Westminster Choir College, Princeton, New Jersey. Park was a professor at the College of Music, Hangyang University, Seoul (1952-1973) and also served as director of music at Young-nak Presbyterian Church in Seoul. His honors include a Doctor of Humanities from Azusa University, Azusa, California. He published oratorios on Esther and The Passion of Mark. In the area of hymnology, he prepared the Handbook on the Korean Hymnal.
It is admittedly difficult to sing this hymn in English at an appropriate tempo. I suggest that a soloist or choir sing the stanzas and then invite the congregation to join in on the refrain. The refrain sings easily at the faster tempo. A two-headed traditional Korean drum in the shape of an hourglass, the janggoo makes a delightful accompaniment for the hymn. You may have a Korean church in your community. As an act of hospitality, invite a singer from a local Korean church to sing the stanzas in Korean.