Home Worship Planning History of Hymns History of Hymns: "Shepherd Me, O God"

History of Hymns: "Shepherd Me, O God"

By C. Michael Hawn

Shepherd Me, O God"
by Marty Haugen;
The Faith We Sing, No. 2058

Marty Haugen

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life

Marty Haugen (b. 1950) is among the most prolific and influential composers of liturgical music of his generation. His hymns, psalm settings, and paraphrases, services set to music, and anthems are widely used in both Protestant and Roman Catholic congregations around the world.

Born in Zumbrota, Minnesota, Marty Haugen studied a wide range of musical instruments throughout high school, including piano, violin, trombone, and organ, playing organ in the Lutheran church attended by his family. In a communication with United Methodist Hymnal editor, Dr. Carlton Young, his life changed after his father’s sudden death and his mother, drawing upon her English major at St. Olaf College, took a position as the editor of a local paper. Mr. Haugen notes that this “brought a wonderful and expansive vision of the larger world to us.”

He graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa (BA 1973), studying piano and music theory, and participating in the Luther Band under the direction of the legendary and long-time faculty member Weston H. Noble. For graduate school, he attended Luther-Northwestern (now Luther) Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota, the St. Paul School of Divinity of the University of St. Thomas, and United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, where he earned an MA in 1993.

His calling as a composer of liturgical music began while serving as a music director for two Roman Catholic parishes in Minneapolis between 1972-1985. Since that time, he has been a freelance composer and workshop leader in a wide range of denominational settings, Roman Catholic and Protestant, throughout the Americas, Europe, Australia, and the Pacific Rim. He now has more than 400 compositions in print. Though United Church of Christ by denominational affiliation, his music is widely used by a broad range of faith traditions, but especially Lutherans and Roman Catholics, where he makes regular appearances in congregations and conferences.

“Shepherd me, O God” demonstrates the composer’s gift both as a musical composer and a writer of texts. The inviting refrain does not use “shepherd” as a noun, but rather begins with a petition, using “shepherd” as a verb. It is the refrain that takes Psalm 23 and places it in contemporary life as well as echoes of John 10:27: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (ESV). The stanzas of the hymn paraphrase the structure and themes of Psalm 23, but in language that enlivens the message for singers today.

Stanza one corresponds to verses one and two of the Psalm. Stanza two paraphrases verse three. Stanza three relates to verse four. Stanzas four and five draw upon verses five and six respectively.

In addition to the refrain, two examples demonstrate the sensitivity and creativity of this paraphrase. Verse two – “He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake” (KJV) – is extended beyond the scriptural material by the composer with the lyrical phrase, “my spirit shall sing the music of your Name.”

Verse five – “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (KJV) – becomes, “You have set me a banquet of love in the face of hatred.” I could not locate any translation that broadened the language from “ presence of my enemies” to “face of hatred.” The Miles Coverdale (c. 1488-1569) translation of this psalm used in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer softens the phrase somewhat: “Thou shalt prepare a table before me against them that trouble me . . . .” The traditional Roman Catholic English-language translation, Douay-Rheims, states, “Thou hast prepared a table before them against them that afflict me.” By using “hatred,” Mr. Haugen intensifies the emotional level and creates a stronger contrast with the subsequent phrase, “crowning me with love . . .”, rather than with “anoints my head with oil.” The powerful antithesis between “hatred” and “love” parallels the contrast between “death” and “life” in the refrain. These are examples of how Marty Haugen, the text writer, brings this Psalm into current language and experience.

Commenting on his many settings of the psalms to this writer, Mr. Haugen stated, “The more time I spend in prayer and reflection upon the psalms, the more I realize how they have formed the core of my sung and silent prayer. All of human life is there--thanksgiving and praise, lament and loss, anger and fear and always, hope. The psalms connect me in a profound way with individuals pray-ers and communities from every generation and culture, with Jews and Christians, saints and certainly sinners. Many times I have found the psalms to be the only prayer that I could pray in difficult and empty times.”

Among Mr. Haugen’s most famous compositions are settings of worship services, Mass of Creation (revised in 2010 to accommodate the changes of English-language Mass texts) and Holden Evening Prayer (1990). In addition to our hymn, his most widely sung hymns include “Bring forth the kingdom” (Faith We Sing 2190), a song in a folk-style, “Healer of our every ill” (TFWS 2213), a composition more in the classic hymn tradition, and “Gather us in” (TFWS 2236), perhaps with a mixture of a folk style with a classic hymn structure. These compositions demonstrate a facility to move between musical styles and forms.

Knownn for his settings of the Psalter, recent projects include The Lyric Psalter, a project with Roman Catholic composer Tony Alonso (b. 1980), musical settings of all of the psalms used in the three-year lectionary. The texts come from The Revised Grail Psalter (2010), the official English-language Psalter chosen by Rome for use in preparing Roman Catholic liturgy.

Marty Haugen summarizes his theology of music in worship with guidelines for parish leaders in To Serve as Jesus Did (2006). This book addresses ministry as it relates to the “four-fold movement and shape of the Sunday eucharistic celebration” while considering the practical, the spiritual, and the global challenges of those who minister.

*© 1986 GIA Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

C. Michael Hawn is University Distinguished Professor of Church Music, Perkins School of Theology, SMU.

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