A Powerful Prayer

Last Sunday (August 5th) at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church I heard the following powerful prayer as the text of an anthem ,”God Be in My Head:”

  • God be in my head,

    Westminster Presbyterian Church
  • And in my understanding;
  • God be in my eyes
  • And in my looking;
  • God be in my mouth
  • And in my speaking;
  • God be in my heart
  • And in my thinking;
  • God be at my end,
  • And at my departing.

(A video of this worship service is available on the web.)

Sarum Primer, title page, 1555

I was surprised I had never heard this prayer or anthem before. The church bulletin said this text was from the Sarum Primer of 1514, which meant nothing to me.

After I returned home and goggled “Sarum Primer,” I discovered that it was a book of prayers and Christian worship resources in the Roman Catholic Church that was collected by the clergy at Salisbury Cathedral in the south central part of England. It was published in 1514 in the “Book of Hours” (Cambridge) and republished as the “Sarum Primer” in Salisbury in 1558. (“Sarum” is the abbreviation for Sarisburium, the Latin word for Salisbury, which was and is both a city and a diocese in England. “Primer” is the Middle English term for a Book of Hours.)

I remember the beautiful Salisbury Cathedral from a visit in 1962. To the right are photographs of its interior and exterior.

David Evan Thomas

The composer of the anthem is David Evan Thomas, who was born in Rochester, New York in 1958 and holds degrees from Northwestern University (B.A.) the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester (M.A.) and the University of Minnesota (Ph.D.). He lives in Minneapolis and in addition to composing sings in the city’s Plymouth Congregational Church Choir. I was surprised to discover that he had been a composer in residence at my church (Westminster Presbyterian Church).

I pray that God will be in my head, understanding, eyes, looking, mouth, speaking, heart and thinking. And eventually in my end and departing.

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As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

7 thoughts on “A Powerful Prayer”

  1. Composer’s Comments

    David Evan Thomas, the composer of “God Be in My Head” that is the subject of this post, asked me to add these comments.

    “I always enjoy hearing the Westminster Choir perform my music, but Sunday August 5 was special, because they performed not one but two of my anthems, and the organist played the triptych I wrote for her wedding.

    In between larger pieces or before a commission I typically will do a “warm-up” piece, something for which there is no need or pressure. “God be in my head” was one of those happy interludes. It was basically written in one sitting. I don’t remember where I first came across the text, but it struck me as direct, personal and universal. The Westminster Church Choir took it on tour to Ireland a few years back, and it has been recorded by the National Lutheran Choir (available on iTunes).

    I was the composer-in-residence at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church from 2002-2004 through the American Composers Forum’s “Faith Partners” program. I wrote five anthems and a brass piece for the church and the Cathedral of Saint Paul. It was a happy collaboration. I had a chance to write music on texts that challenged me—poems by Rilke and Henry Vaughan—and some music that was a little more practical—“The Gift” and “This is my beloved Son.” All six pieces were published by ECS and MorningStar, and the church continues to revive them regularly. Yes, a happy collaboration!”

  2. Comments by Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Minister of Music and Organist

    Melanie Ohnstad, Westminster’s Minister of Music and the Arts and Organist, asked for her comments to be added to this post.

    “I am glad that David Evan Thomas’ setting of “God Be in My Head” and David himself have been brought into wider awareness through this post. He is a fine composer, a good friend of Westminster and a bright light in the Twin Cities Composers Forum.

    The music he referenced as part of our Faith Partners collaboration with the St. Paul Cathedral has seen repeated use here. We have enjoyed it anew every time. During the partnership David led an adult education session at our church. He also was here for the premieres and several rehearsals. At the conclusion of the partnership the choirs of Westminster and the Cathedral jointly presented a concert featuring all of the new pieces. It was a really fun and creative process with such lasting outcomes.

    David’s grandfather was a Welsh Presbyterian man of the cloth, so David’s familiar with us Presbyterian types!”

  3. The Hymnary of the United a Church of Canada, published in 1930, gives the background as Sarum Primer, 1558. Music by Henry Walford Davies, 1869-.

  4. What a surprise to see this as the first listing on Sarum Primer 1514! I was looking up information about the prayer “God be in my…” and there was a picture of WPC and a reflection by you!

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