If you look closely at the collection of hymns in The United Methodist Hymnal (UMH), a significant number come from many parts of the world other than the United States of America or Europe. It was the intention of the editorial committee to include hymns representing the ethnic diversity of The United Methodist Church.
The Hispanics are one of the groups represented. Among the Hispanic hymns are those written by Cesário Gabaráin (April 30, 1936 – April 20, 1991), a 20th century Spanish priest and composer of liturgical hymns. His contributions to the UMH are hymns 305, 344, 583 and 637. His compositions are widely sung in Latin America.
His ministry involved being a chaplain in a college, in a nursing home, and serving as a parish priest. He was also an athlete by which he ministered to cyclists who participated in Tour de France.
It was his interaction with people from all walks of life that inspired him to write these hymns. His texts speak of the feelings, humility and life of these people. When writing his songs he kept in mind that they had to be orejable or easily understood, so everyone could sing.
For example, UMH 583 “Soi la semilla” (“You are the seed”, composed in 1979) is one accessible hymn that we can use during ordination, commissioning seminarians or missionaries, Missions Sunday, or on a regular Sunday as the Sending forth hymn. In this hymn, Gabaráin highlights the message of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) by using it as the hymn’s refrain, calling us to be witnesses of Christ our Lord.
Go, my friends, go to the world, proclaiming love to all, messengers of my forgiving peace, eternal love.
Be, my friends, a loyal witness, from the dead I arose; “Lo, I’ll be with you forever, till the end of the world.”
Gabaráin takes biblical allusions and adeptly uses them to craft the stanzas. For example, stanza one has the following references:
You are the seed that will grow a new sprout; (Matthew 13:31)
you’re a star that will shine in the night; (Daniel 12:3)
you are the yeast and a small grain of salt, (Leviticus 2)
a beacon to glow in the dark.
You are the dawn that will bring a new day; (Luke 1:78)
you’re the wheat that will bear golden grain; (John 12:24-26)
you are a sting and a soft, gentle touch,
my witnesses wher-e’er you go.
In the process of singing or reading the text, one realises that these allusions are ascribed to the singer or reader. The composer hopes that they will thus realise their mission. The richness of the text leads us to its profound implication.
Gabaráin continues the second stanza with the same technique: more biblical allusions are used and ascribed to the singers.
You are the flame that will lighten the dark,
sending sparkles of hope, faith, and love;
you are the shepherds to lead the whole world
(1 Peter 5:2)
through valleys and pastures of peace.
You are the friends that I chose for myself,
the word that I want to proclaim.
You are the new kingdom built on a rock
where justice and truth always reign.
In the third stanza, Gabaráin is confident that good will result when we live as what we “are”, as emphasised in the first two stanzas.
You are the life that will nurture the plant; you’re the waves in a turbulent sea; yesterday’s yeast is beginning to rise,
a new loaf of bread it will yield.
There is no place for a city to hide,
nor a mountain can cover its might;
may your good deeds show a world in despair
a path that will lead all to God.
Gabaráin encourages us to maintain a posture of hope, remain loyal to Christ, and proclaim God’s love to the world.
The hymn in its lively tune calls out a challenge. Can we be the seed? The star? The yeast? Can we be the wheat? Can we be courageous to “sting”, but at the same time be gentle in our witness?
“Go, my friends …”
Judith Mosomos is Acting Director of Worship and Church Music at the Methodist School of Music, and a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.