Raising my Ebeneezer


April 6, 2012 by jooshanoosh

Warning: Many religious videos ahead. But c’mon, it’s Easter Weekend!

As Topher mentioned, this weekend was the LDS General Conference. And if you weren’t distracted by the amazing commercials (it’s kinda like the Mormon Superbowl) there were some pretty great talks and spiritual momments. On Sunday afternoon, as the morning session was ending, we were scrambling around the house to get the kids ready for the traditional Waffle, Ice Cream and Strawberry brunch at my Mother-in-Laws. Despite the rush, I was stopped in my tracks by the closing song. The MoTabs singing Come Thou Fount.

Unless your soul has been replaced by shredded wheat, you probably have your heart in your throat about now. The MoTabs rocked it out (in a spiritual, testimony bearing kind of way.) The lyrics of this song are moving and gorgeous. And while I don’t know what it means to “raise my Ebeneezer” I love the recognition that the human heart is “prone to wander” and pleading with the Lord to “take and seal it.”It makes me weepy every time. 
But what I find most fun about this song is its weird cult status in the Church. It’s like the quintisential Hipster Hymn – everyone wants to believe they have some personal claim in it or that they discovered it first. It even used to be in the hymnal, but was taken out in the last revision. Which makes it all the more mysterious and awesome!! Ask any musical Mormon about it and they will tell you how they heard from their uncle who had a friend on the Mormon Music Committee (the official name, I believe) the reason: It was accidentally dropped on the floor before the final printing, it was a secret revelation, it was just too darn high. And my personal favorite: They heard from the same MMC that it will be in the NEXT hymn book. 
I love the Hipster Hymns. Songs that you don’t hear all that often but are amazing none the less. I mean, everyone loves Praise to the Man (Ming-ling’s with God!) and Spirit of God but don’t you love that confused look at panic around the congregation when one of the Hipster Hymns starts up on the organ (when’s the last time you sang The Day Dawn is Breaking? (strangely, this hymn is hugely popular in Italy where I served my LDS mission. Maybe it is because you say “Limpido dí!” instead of “Beautiful Bright Millennial Day!”))
The most popular Hipster Hymn is Lead Kindly Light. You hear it a little more than some of the others, but it gets its Hipster status because it sounds like it should be sung while wearing Birkenstocks in a commune accompanied by someone named Sage playing a guitar. It’s sounds a little out of place with an organ (although the flutes in this version help.)
My personal favorite Hipster Hymn is Be Still My Soul. I had never heard this song before going on my LDS Mission. I don’t think I knew what it was called in English until I came home. In Italian, it is called Anima Mia (which means “my soul”) and it is haunting and earnest and beautiful. (I guess it is all of those things in English, too. But most things sound better in Italian.)  I, alas, couldn’t find an Italian version on You Tube.  I could find 1 million versions sung by David Arculetta at firesides recorded on cell phone cams by, I presume, 13 year old girls. But here are the MoTabs with their boring old English version.
So are you more of a A Voice Hath Spoken From the Dust kind of person? Or do you get excited when you hear Know This, That Every Soul is Free? Do you choose The Happy Day at Last Has Come when you get to choose the song in opening exercises. “Oh, what? You’ve never heard this hymn? Well, it is very obscure.” If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you are a fan of the Hipster Hymn. Don’t be shy. Raise your Ebeneezer proudly and bind some hearts like a fetter. Remember, people are in awe of your taste in esoteric religious music.  

20 thoughts on “Raising my Ebeneezer

  1. dalene says:

    Are you making fun of my Birkenstocks?I'm not quite sure how to raise my Ebeneezer or if I really want to. However, prone to wander a bit myself, I can't listen to Come Thou Fount (not to be confused with Come Thou Font) without bawling like a baby. My personal theory is that had it not been removed from the hymnal it would still have gone unappreciated and remained unknown.Be Still My Soul is a personal favorite and I can sing the original lyrics in Finnish, however badly. Other favorites include More Holiness Give Me (because I need to be smacked down) and also Lord, I Would Follow Thee. Mostly because when I grow up that's exactly how I want to be.

  2. This is just one of those posts I wish I wrote.

  3. Ken Craig says:

    Josh, we had the same thing happen to us. (But we do traditional ginger-bread cake with bananas and whipped cream. It always sounded awesome to me, until WAFFLE with STRAWBERRIES was mentioned…) I have long loved that hipster hymn. I'm also a longtime fan of "How Great Thou Art" and "How Gentle God's Command."I've never sung, "I'm a Pilgrim, I'm a Stranger," but for some reason, I'm always intrigued by the title. It sounds like I could be some sort of spiritual nomad, wandering from town to town, like Dr. Bruce Banner. I also like to pretend that hymns 11 and 12 lead into each other – that hymn 12 is the sequel to hymn 11. Ready? 11. What Was Witnessed in the Heavens 12. 'Twas Witnessed in the Morning Sky.

  4. Jared Jones says:

    If you look in the old hymnbook there is a footnote to the phrase "Raise your eben-ezer". It means a commorative marker. From the Bible Dictionary: Eben-ezer. Stone of help. A stone set up by Samuel as a token of gratitude for deliverance from the Philistines (1 Sam. 7:10–12). The place had previously been the scene of two defeats (1 Sam. 4:1; 5:1); and in the account of these defeats it is called by the name it received later on. Its position may have been at the head of the valley of Ajalon.I love O Savior Though Who Wearest a Crown. I do not like In our lovely Deseret–just a little too cheesy. And one cannot forget If You could Hie to Kolob.Who knew I was a hipster?

  5. wendysue says:

    One of my favorites as well..I think because it's honest…"prone to wander". A few years ago I wondered about the whole Ebeneezer thing too, so let me feel like a smarty pants for a minute. In Hebrew Ebeneezer means "stone of help" and it symbolized anything that led someone to God. The Israelites would also place these piles of stones to mark victories or important moments. So when in the song they sing " here I raise my ebeneezer" they are marking an important moment of being reconciled with God. And now you know.

  6. Heidi says:

    I've been a ward organist off and on for the better part of the last 13 years now, and I've played every hymn in the book numerous times. I love them all, and, because I'm rather a snob, I love the more obscure ones most. In fact, in one of my singles wards years ago, the second counselor asked me and the ward chorister to stop choosing unfamiliar hymns because people weren't singing them. My mental response was, "well, if we sang them more often, they wouldn't be unfamiliar, would they?" But, yeah, I do get a kick out of knowing the unfamiliar hymns. Is secret pride a sin…?

  7. seashmore says:

    Oddly enough, I didn't like "Come, Thou Fount" until I heard Mo-Tab sing it live in Des Moines a few years ago. Now, it's one of my favorites. As far as other favorite Hipster Hymns, "Lead, Kindly Light" is definitely one of them. Mostly because it reminds me of the time the power went out at the temple during a hailstorm and I sang it with 3 sister missionaries as people came into the Visitor's Center for the missionary farewell.I'm okay with Hipster Hymns, but what about hidden verses? Like, do people even know there are 5 verses to "Nearer, My God, to Thee?"

  8. Anna says:

    Best post in a while. You know you've really tapped into Mormon culture when you recognize that there definitely are hipster hymns.

  9. Anna says:

    Ring Out, Wild Bells is like the hipster Christmas hymn, right?

  10. Josh says:

    I like Hymns with sequels. Is that what you are thinking about when you sit on the stand?

  11. Josh says:

    Kacy – I think that about 90% of the time when I read your blog. So I guess we are even.

  12. Josh says:

    TOTALLY! There is literally only one Sunday a year that it makes sense to sing that song (the last Sunday of the year.) and so I get so mad when we don't sing it. Also, it was written by Tennyson, so it makes me feel smart to like it.

  13. I love you, Josh! I raise my Ebeneezer to you, and I also weep every time I hear that hymn. I would like to imagine the "Beautiful Words of Love" if/when someday a couple of other members of our family give such sweet introspection to our hymns and their messages.

  14. Thora says:

    I love Be Still My Soul – of course it makes sense it has such beautiful music, since it's the song Finlandia. I never learned about it until college, along with Know This That Every Soul is Free, which I also love, and Let Zion in her Beauty Rise. I don't think it's a hipster hymn, but I do love Oh My Father – such exciting doctrine. Heavenly Mother! Eliza's always good for exciting lyrics (see how we're on a first name basis?). How Firm a Foundation is quite common, but we never sing all seven verses (of course). Elder Bednar came to our stake conference in Ohio recently, and at the close of the adult session had us sing all seven verses. I loved it – I love that hymn, and my favorite verses are the ones that are never sung. I think I've waited my whole life for that moment, hymn-wise. My Mom wants Lead Kindly Light sung at her funeral eventually – maybe we'll have to get someone with Birkenstocks to sing it, with a guitar. I was at a funeral this week, and I thought that I should really pick out, years before I get old, the hymns I want sung at my funeral. It the one chance (unless you're the chorister or organist) to pick what's sung at a meeting, and I want to make it a good one. Who cares if they're funeral themed; maybe we'll bust out a men's choir on Brightly Beams our Father's Mercy. I love that song, but being of the female persuasion, I can neither sing it, nor is it sung usually in meetings I am attending.Our current ward Chorister is from Ghana, and she picks hymns solely based on the theme of the week, not on their commonality, perhaps because she's not influenced by normally sung American hymns. I love it – some weeks I'm reminded why a particular hymn is never sung (weird tempo, odd key), but often there are hidden gems. And apparently this is a hot topic for me, since I wrote a novel as a comment.

  15. Let Zion in Her Beauty Riseand Come All Whose Souls Are Lighted

  16. Patrick says:

    Can I call out one I hate? No, not hate, it's hymn so I would never hate, but I hate when people, and it's not the hipsters but the other end, it's the Deep Doc's, where they dive deep into the doctrine and love how deep and docrine-y the Hymn is and completely overlook the fact that it's a dumb song with a dumb tune (and no Thora, 'Oh My Father' is not in this class. Yes on the Deep Doc but such a beautiful melody and lovely words and sweet doctrine it stands exempt.) I am talking of course of, 'If You Could Hie to Kolob' I know, some of you are super in to it, but every one of my "Super Deep" companions loved this song. I mean honestly, what key is that?! It's a Hymn for crying out loud, you gotta be all dissonant and scary. And, KOLOB! really?! Even my spell check doesn't know what that is! Were we really so over drawn of Hymns of Love or Compassion or Wheel Shouldering that we needed a song about the planet next to Heaven?!As far as 'Come Thou Fount' it really is one of the best of the best. And when I told Lindsay that it was a Hipster Hymn she was all, "No! I love that Hymn! It's not hipster, I discovered that Hymn when I was singing in a cave in Israel…oh, I guess that sounds pretty hipster, doesn't it." I didn't think so, but then again my skinny jeans were cutting off my circulation so it was hard to hear her.

  17. Jared says:

    "Come Thou Fount" became a favorite of mine when my daughter's high school choir performed it at the Assembly Hall last winter, but I never knew what any of the lyrics were (secret admission: I can never understand the words of songs sung by choirs) until last Sunday. We were fortunate enough to have tickets to the morning session, and in the middle of that stirring closing hymn, I was compelled to pull out my phone ("Please leave all cell phones and similar electronic devices turned off during the session," it says right on the ticket) and Google up those lyrics. Tell me more about the Ebenezer thing.A couple that no one has mentioned: In the Japanese LDS hymnbook (at least the my-mission-era one) there is a hymn called "Waiting for the Reapers." I have never seen or heard this anywhere else before or since. Marty Lloyd, if you are out there somewhere, I know you remember this one. (If someone knows him shoot him a link). Many of the hymns in the Japanese hymnal, as translated, have kind of this sad, "This doesn't really fit with this culture, but it was a hymn so we had to translate it" feel to them (in my opinion). "Waiting for the Reapers" seems even more out of place than most. No idea where it came from. I know it's not from Japanese culture, because it has the word "Hallelujah," (or, "Ha-re-ru-ya," seriously) in it. It was a favorite for a morning apartment hymn because it was up-tempo and made you want to wake up and march around. I can still remember a lot of the lyrics in Japanese, but can't translate them as well as I used to. Something about "Take up the torch!" and we can't wait for Jesus to come back and kick some butt.Also no one has mentioned "Because I Have Been Given Much." Now that I think about it, dumb tune, but what a message.Thanks for the thought-provoking blog Josh!

  18. Lisa says:

    I love this post, Josh! And Patrick, KOLOB? really!? It just confuses everyone. . . I'm with you.

  19. If I could hi to Kolob, I WOULDN'T.

  20. Naomi says:

    This post is fabulous, although I have to say all of the hymns you mention wouldn't be considered hipster hymns here in England, we sing them all the time! I find it interesting that in different parts of the world some hymns are more well known.

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