Voices-only Wednesday: ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus”
I’ve sung this week’s featured song, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” more times than I can count — with varying degrees of enthusiasm. It’s easy for this supposed-to-sound-uplifting hymn to turn into a kind of dirge, dragging on and on for what seems like an eternity.
I was fascinated to learn that the song’s writer, Irish poet Joseph M. Scriven, endured personal tragedies before he wrote the piece, originally titled “Pray Without Ceasing.” (It was just a poem he wrote to his mother then, later set to music and retitled.)
Scriven’s fiancée drowned the day before they were to be married. Years later, he lost another fiancée to pneumonia. Yet he kept his faith through it all — and considered it a “privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.”
This short documentary explains more about Scriven and the song. (There is some instrumental music here, which violates the rules for Voices-only Wednesday, but I thought the backstory might be of interest to some of our readers.)
There are numerous variations of this hymn floating around the Internet. Here’s one mixed with “Oh Happy Day” — sung in Indonesian and English. (Speaking of which, see my recent profile of Churches of Christ in Indonesia and longtime missionary Winston Bolt)
And as long as we’re in Southeast Asia, here’s a modern a cappella “remix” version by recording artist Tin Tran in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
This one may be my favorite — an a cappella cover by the 1940s-50s vocal group The Pilgrim Travelers. It sounds like it belongs in the film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”