Home History of Hymns: "Purify My Heart"

History of Hymns: "Purify My Heart"

“Purify My Heart”
Richard Leach
Worship and Song, No. 3103

Purify my heart, O Father;
purify my heart, O Jesus;
purify my heart, O Spirit;
I want to see my God. *

“I often write in response to particular Bible passages. I try to tell familiar stories in new ways, or listen to less familiar passages for what they might say to us. I want my hymns to enliven those who sing, to give singers something new which they can make their own.

—Richard Leach

Richard Leach (b. 1953) served as a pastor in the United Church of Christ in several parishes in Connecticut from 1978 through 1999. He left the United Church of Christ in 1999 and became a layperson in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. From 1999 through 2006 he worked as the business manager for an information systems consulting company, and today he is a homemaker, poet and visual artist.

He has written hymn texts for over 25 years. In the spring of 1987 he attended a course on worship at Yale Divinity School. One day the subject was new hymn writing. In the introduction to his hymn collection, Tuned for Your Sake (2007, Selah Publishing), Mr. Leach describes the key moment in that course that made him begin writing hymns:

“The words of poets Thomas Troeger and Brian Wren were so vivid and energized compared to what I was leading the congregation in every Sunday morning, that my first reaction was ‘Wow!’ And then I thought, ‘I wonder if I could do that?’ And then, ‘I want to do that.’ So I began to try.”

Richard Leach

Mr. Leach has written many hymn texts as well as poems for choral works. Until 1999 his poems often referred to the Revised Common Lectionary, which means that his work covers a wide range of theological themes. Since 1999 most of his poems have been commissioned works.

It is impressive to read Mr. Leach’s thematic indexes. The range of his theological themes leaves nothing to be desired. We can find many common subjects including “Eternal Life” and “Jesus Crucified and Risen,” as well as unusual or even quirky subjects such as “Running from God” or “Monsters.”

One of Mr. Leach’s most beautiful hymns is “Purify My Heart” which was part of a self-assigned project of writing hymns based on the Beatitudes. It is sung with a wonderful tune in F minor, TURN MY HEART, that was composed by Amanda Husberg, a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod musician in New York City.

This hymn, which features no rhyme scheme, effectively consists of only three basic phrases, two of which are similar: “Purify my heart,” “I want to see my God” and “Turn my heart.” Variations are formed by different endings of the heart-phrases.

Stanza two: Turn my heart away from anger; / . . . from envy; / . . . from folly.

Stanza three: Turn my heart toward those who love me; / . . . toward any neighbor; / . . . foe and stranger;

The first, fourth and fifth stanzas embrace the language of the Trinity.

This hymn, based on Matthew 5:8, 5:21-28 and 5:43-47, is a good example of one of the most striking poetic devices Mr. Leach uses in his poems: the repetition or variation of lines and phrases.

Mr. Leach is a master of playing with phrases and dealing with theological themes of all kinds. His hymns have been published in hymnals and hymnal supplements from a wide spectrum of denominations. I hope his hymns will be contained in many upcoming hymnals!

* © 2006 Abingdon Press, Administered by The Copyright Company, Nashville, Tenn. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Ms. Müller, a Master of Sacred Music student at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, is from Germany and studies hymnology with Dr. C. Michael Hawn.