“Take, O Take Me As I Am”

Hymn Study
TITLE:"Take, O Take Me As I Am"
AUTHOR: John L. Bell
TUNE: TAKE, O TAKE
COMPOSER: John L. Bell
SOURCE: Worship & Song, no. 3119
SCRIPTURE: Song of Solomon 8:6-7a; Romans 6:11; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 1:11-14; 2 John 1:5-7
TOPIC: baptism; call/calling; covenant; heart; seal

Background

"Take, O Take Me As I Am" is one of the best-known and often-used songs from the Iona Community in Scotland, having found its way into numerous hymnals, songbooks, and arrangements. The Iona Community is an ancient Christian community on the small island of Iona in the Inner Hebrides Islands of western Scotland. It was founded by St. Columba, a monk from Ireland and missionary to Scotland, in 563 A.D. It became an important monastery in the Early Middle Ages and played a major role in the conversion of the Picts to Christianity and in the evangelization of Europe. Today, the Iona Community is a place of pilgrimage from all over the world. It has become a major center for ecumenism, social justice, healing, reconciliation, and worship renewal.

John Lamberton Bell was born in 1949 in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland. He is a hymn writer, minister in the Church of Scotland, and a member of the Iona Community. He leads Iona's global efforts in worship renewal at the local church level. In that capacity, he travels throughout the world lecturing, writing, leading, teaching, and composing. His early career was spent in church youth work and campus ministry and later in the areas of worship and music with the Iona Community's Wild Goose Worship Group. He is a past convener of the Church of Scotland's Panel on Worship, and he also convened the Committee to revise the Church Hymnary (Fourth Edition), of which he was also music editor. He is a frequent contributor of programs and lectures on the BBC. He composed "Take, O Take Me As I Am" in 1995.

Words

The simple, direct words of this short worship song's four phrases are profound in their content and implications for the singer:

  • "Take, O take me as I am": I am human with all my human faults, failings and sinfulness. It is my desire that God will, nonetheless, take me, just as I am.
  • "Summon out what I shall be": Along with my faults, failings and sin, God has also gifted me with potential for good, for growth, as John Wesley might say, for "going on to perfection." It is God who placed those possibilities within me and it is God who will call them out for my growth, development and spiritual formation.
  • "Set your seal upon my heart": It is my desire, not only to be "taken by God," but to be forever marked and sealed as God's own, again as Wesley said in his Covenant Prayer, "I am no longer my own, but thine."
  • "And live in me": I am a new creature, still the person God created, but now inseparably joined as part of God's own family. My life is no longer my own, but now mine and God's.

Notice the sequence of the four phrases:

  • surrender and conversion…
  • transformation…
  • sealed and marked by God's covenant…
  • new life together with and in God

Music

As equally simple and direct as the text of this song is the music. The first phrase opens with the upward leap of a third in quarter notes followed by a step-wise descending passage in eighth notes, concluding with a rise to a phrase-ending whole note. The second phrase repeats the same pattern with a larger final rise. The third phrase again repeats the pattern, but transposed up a fourth. The final phrase consists of three quarter notes ending again on a longer whole note, but importantly neither the final note nor the final harmony is the tonic. Instead, it concludes on the highly unstable dominant harmony that normally leads to the tonic. The requirement is quite evident, the final dominant harmony naturally leads back to the opening tonic harmony and a repetition of the entire song, repeated as often as seems fitting. Some musicians, remembering their early music theory training that the dominant harmony must resolve to the tonic, especially at the end of a song, will not be able to resist the temptation to add a concluding tonic harmony, or worse, an Amen that resolves on the tonic (as one abominable YouTube video does). RESIST! The ending on the unresolved dominant harmony is eloquent testimony that we are on a never-ending journey, there is always more life to be lived, even after surrender and conversion…transformation…sealing…and new life.

Sources

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Categories: Hymn Studies, Worship

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