by Allison Gannett
Dear Friends in Christ,
Ever since my visitation to St. Andrew in Florence, this hymn has been going through my head: “Day by day, dear Lord, of thee three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day.” We sang the popular rendition from the musical “Godspell,” complete with a guitarist, a tambourine, and soloists. The tune is upbeat in the style of popular musicals of our day, which makes it easy to get stuck in a loop in one’s head.
My first exposure to this hymn was from Godspell; only much later did I discover it in our hymnal. The tune is different, but the lyrics are the same. The hymn stands out in our hymnal because of its simplicity. Instead of a multi-verse theological poem, Day by Day is more akin to a mantra or a simple prayer. This is likely one of the reasons it is easier to remember. It’s simple, gets to the point, and has surprising depth.
Only after repeating it numerous times do we start wondering, “How do I see Jesus more clearly?” As we go through our day, what are we seeing, and how are we understanding what we see? Are we seeing with only our eyes or also with our hearts?
Praying that we will love Jesus more dearly can sound wonderfully sentimental. But after several repetitions, this phrase might draw us into wondering what would it look like for me to love Jesus more dearly? To hold something dear is to cherish and to guard it. How might we live into loving Jesus that goes beyond mere sentiment? What would it look like to hold him so dear that nothing and no one will separate him from us?
What does it mean to pray that we follow Jesus even “more nearly”? This nearness is not about distance measured in inches or feet but by imitation and fidelity. How near are we to imitating his teachings, ministry, and way of life in our lives? How faithful can we be to keeping in step with Jesus such that we will know God revealed through him?
Being drawn into meditation inspired by a hymn is a form of prayer. And sometimes, the simple hymns, the ones that keep playing in our heads, can inspire the deepest and most soulful encounters with God.