I missed this posting last month at America. Written for a friend’s diaconate ordination, the story of the song’s genesis makes sense to me now, given the parameters of the commission:
His friend wanted the song to include the images of the word of God, the light of Christ and the bread and wine—images that would eventually appear at the ends of the verses: “Who will bear my light to them?” “Who will speak my word to them?”
At the time, Mr. Schutte had no idea how to work the images into the song.
This is what I find fascinating about the most popular pieces in liturgical music: what the texts have in common. So many seem to include variations on a simple question: Do you see me, God?
It’s a question those in discernment for service must ask. Such persons wonder about their calling, how their gifts might fit into ministry. The criticism of self-absorption is wrong-headed in most cases. “Here I am” isn’t an egocentric declaration. While it might allude to Isaiah 6 or Psalm 40, those passages make a certain context clear to me: it’s as much about the question. Admit it, we ask the question about ourselves–many times some days.
It’s why music like “Here I Am, Lord” or “Be Not Afraid” or even “Gather Us In” retain a certain popularity in spite of relentless criticism in some quarters. Time and time again, the Biblical passages about God’s call–and the human desire to be confirmed in what one is doing–overshadow other passages. It makes those other passages–Mass propers, traditional hymns, so-called God-centered language–no less true. But for many Christians far less relevant to their own pilgrimage.