You Are Near

After our brisk discussion here and elsewhere about “You Are Near,” I decided to ask the composer himself for some background on the piece. He was kind enough to return my e-mail this morning and suggested I relay it to my readers. There’s a little bit on the genesis of the song, but also Dan Schutte’s own take on the use of the tetragrammaton, and some of the background on his use of the Jerusalem Bible.

I thank him for bringing some light to the discussion, noting two things that struck me. First, the use of Y— was intentional on the part of the JB scholars, but not without some thought. It was a more accurate (sound familiar?) rendering of the Hebrew original. Second, in the use of our acclamation Alleluia, or Hallelu-Yah, we’re already uttering a shortened form of the Name. Heh. Even the Latin is corrupted.

I offer the bulk of his e-mail unedited:

There certainly has been a flurry of discussion arising from the recent directive from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.  And, as is evident on your website, much of it has been centered around my song, “You Are Near.”  I suppose I should receive that as a compliment.

I wrote this piece in 1970, as a very young man.  I’m afraid there’s no special story behind it.  I do remember beginning it while on retreat and working on it for several months before I was satisfied.  When I entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1966, the Jerusalem Bible had just been published.  It was the long-awaited project of some of the world’s most respected scripture scholars.  The translation was modern, in the best sense of that word, and attempted to be true to the poetic character of the Biblical songs, especially the Psalms.  I first learned to pray the Psalms from the Jerusalem Bible.  And, like you, I turned to the JB translation in considering Biblical texts my compositions.

The JB team of translators decided to use the name “Yahweh” whenever the tetragrammaton YHWH appeared in the original Hebrew text.  It was certainly not a frivolous decision on their part.  It might be interesting for your bloggers to read what the Editor’s Forward in the JB says about their decision:

It is in the Psalms especially that the use of the divine name Yahweh may seem unacceptable – though indeed the still stranger form Yah is in constant use in the acclamation Hallelu-Yah (Praise Yah!).  It is not without hesitation that this accurate form has been used, and no doubt those who may care to use this translation of the Psalms can substitute the traditional “the Lord”.  On the other hand, this would be to lose much of the flavor and meaning of the originals.

As our communal, and my own personal, sensitivity grew in the years after the writing of “You Are Near,” we came to understand that speaking the name “Yahweh” out loud was not in keeping with our long Christian tradition, and was, in fact, offensive to Jewish sisters and brothers.  So after 1973 I’ve not used the name “Yahweh” in my compositions.

I’m presently working to revise the lyric of “You Are Near.”   I suppose that won’t keep people from singing it the way they have for 37 years, but I feel I need to provide an “official” revised text for use at liturgy.  Of course, those who make musical decisions for worship could simply choose not to sing it.  There are many beautiful, well-crafted settings of Psalm 139.  But, as several of your bloggers attest, “You Are Near” is a beloved favorite of many people.  I can tell you that over the years I’ve received more messages about “You Are Near” — people telling me how it helped them to pray when they couldn’t, or sustained them through particularly difficult times, or helped them in their grieving  — than any other of my songs.  I feel privileged and humbled to be a vehicle of music that brings people to God in this way.

Thanks for asking me to share my thoughts.  It’s not exactly the story you may have hoped for, but I’m sure my words will spark more blog discussion.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Liturgical Music, Scripture, Songlist. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to You Are Near

  1. Chase says:

    Thank you for taking the initiative in contacting the composer on this issue. Hopefully it will settle the dust of wild speculation that has surrounded this particular piece since the CDW issued its directive. Keep up the excellent work!

  2. Richard Froggatt says:

    I’d also like to thank you for this post. I was reading about this over at Active Parishioner. I have to reread it more carefully but they seemed to say that we are not allowed to use the name even in private prayer. Also, how will this effect the name being used in the JB which I just started reading?

    I hope you don’t mind me asking.

  3. Good reporting! I was wondering what Schutte himself thought of this.

  4. Liam says:

    A gracious and edifying reply.

  5. RP Burke says:

    As I suspected. The JB was a revelation compared to the Latin cognate-based CCD Bible, the US bishops’ update of the old Douay Bible. I still recommend to lectors that they get this too as well as the NAB for use in their preparation.

  6. Charles in CenCA says:

    This is an Xpost from the previous combox thread in response to RP Burke’s comments to Kelly regarding the musical aspects of YAN:

    I wonder why it’s necessary to bust someone’s chops as you do above before making a salient point?
    I do know something about the fundamentals of composition. In my earlier post to you I didn’t challenge your knowledge regarding sight-reading, voice-leading as it applies to melodic motives or tessitura; I simply pointed out that YAN also had the identical qualities you cite in the simplicity of Silent Night to Kelly. I freely admit that the verse (which Silent Night does not possess) contains more melodic demands. But because of their step-wise nature, they’re not all that unattainable by any willing soul wanting to sing the verses.
    Let’s be intellectually honest and thorough in the debate, eh?

  7. RP Burke says:


    As I mentioned in the other thread, Kelly tried to bust my chops. So, Newton’s third law of motion applies: To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

    Further, I said nothing that requires an admonition to be intellectually honest.

  8. Pingback: You Are Near « Catholic Sensibility « GROWING IN THE GRACE AND KNOWLEDGE OF OUR DEAREST LORD JESUS

  9. Charles in CenCA says:

    Sorry, RP, missed that part of Kelly’s post.
    Accept your explanation. Retract my admonition.

  10. John Behr says:

    I picked YAN for the Sunday with Elijah’s “whisper of God” reading (as “appropriate for the reading”… so shoot me). A cappella indeed works better a whole step down, while singing through the rests helps the awkwardness. Rhythmic difficulties in the verses vanish asymptotically as you approach the composer’s glacial tempo. Our ancient hymnals (CBW II and 1st edition GP) don’t have any other Psalm 139 settings.
    I didn’t notice the coolness of 139 from YAN… I first noticed it when the nun character on the TV series “Nothing Sacred” read it aloud. (Saying “O God you search me…” as I recall… the producers/writers were Jewish, I think :)).

  11. Deacon Bob says:

    I was interested reading Dan’s comments about how his view changed. Back in the 70s when I lived in St Louis I visited a Jewish friend (a poet) in Kansas City and wanted to sing some of the Christian songs that were really touching my heart. I started singing “You Are Near” and felt immediately awkward when I realized what I was doing. I stopped the song and apologized. My friend was very gracious, but I never forgot that experience. On the other hand, You Are Near remains one of my favorites, and personally I feel not only comfortable using the name YHWH, I feel like a lover using the name of the beloved. I’m glad that Dan is working on a new lyric, but I will certainly continue to sing the psalm privately calling on YHWH.

  12. Richard Hazelip says:

    Why can we not just sing “Lord, I know you are near”? It would mean changing the rhythm of the opening from its current quarter-half to a dotted half note. At that point the opening motive would be more similar, stressing even more strongly the words Lord, know, and near. I would think that Dan Schutte would not be offended by that very slight change to accommodate the ban on the use of any form of YHWH.

  13. Carlene Sandella says:

    I find it rahter comical that the reason given by the CDF regarding the use of the word “Yahweh” centers around sensitivity to the Jews. Since when has Romw ever been sensitive to the Jews??? Another directive thrown to us by the CDF…masked as “sensitivity”.

  14. Dear Carlene,
    In all due charity, I suggest you do some very basic, visceral research that centers around your question “Since when…?” The Church’s sensitivity predates the well-documented, profound and honest efforts of JPII to the tune of more than one century. If your question was polemic, you need to search your heart; it is, of all things, not comical. And I love comedy.

  15. Amy says:

    I’m having trouble understanding the final remark in this paragraph:

    >Second, in the use of our acclamation >Alleluia, or Hallelu-Yah, we’re already >uttering a shortened form of the Name. Heh. >Even the Latin is corrupted.

    “Hallelu-yah” is Hebrew, not Latin (just like Hosannah and Amen) so either you didn’t know that and thought it was corrupt Latin, or else I have no idea what you are referring to and would be grateful for an explanation.


  16. Todd says:

    “Alleluia” is a Latinized version of Hallelu-yah. The “ia” would itself be a shortened form of the tetragrammaton, translated into Latin. Is there awareness of this on the part of the CDWDS? Or is it derivative enough not to be a concern?

  17. JS says:

    I understand that the Jewish people don’t say “Yahweh” out of respect for God. But what I don’t get is that if Jesus himself taught us to call God “Abba”– as intimate as “Daddy”– wouldn’t that signify that he is telling us it is okay to be on a close, by-name basis with God? Changing the perception of God from the fire-and-brimstone to the loving, intimate God. At least that’s how I feel, and I feel very close to God when I sing, “Yahweh, I know you are near.” How beautiful and awesome that the Almighty God knows me and wants me to be close to Him as He is to me.

  18. Ginger Kroos says:

    I’m very glad to get this explanation as I guess since I no longer work in the Church I just haven’t kept up on such things and I guess the beautiful song has not been sung lately in our liturgy until last Sunday. Reading the explanation given in the missal, my thought was, “do they have nothing better to do than change words to beautiful songs”. I like the comment of JS as I love this hymn. I do not want to offend the Jews but they too can be given an explanation as to why we love and want to use this name in prayer and liturgy. After all it in not 2010 BCE

  19. Niki Keitel says:

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  20. John Curry says:

    The real question should be, would the use of our Great God’s Name offend Him who is was and ever shall be? I think not, considering our Brother through God’s adoption of us, our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ as has said for us to call our Father ABBA, meaning Daddy. Would Daddy be offended to hear His Name being praised and sung out loud?

  21. Ellen says:

    We Love this song as it has brought us much consolation in times of grief & desolation!! Thank you for being the author of this beautiful song which has helped so many of us!!

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