O God of Earth and Altar

British TV mysteries are popular in our house and one of our favorites is Father Brown, a series based on the lovable, sleuthing priest created by renowned British writer G.K. Chesterton.

G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) considered himself a journalist, but he was a prolific writer and created works in nearly every literary genre – including the hymn O God of Earth and Altar. This lesser known, yet profound, hymn has a salty text that teeters on the brink of despair:

O God of earth and altar, bow down and hear our cry;
our earthly rulers falter, our people drift and die;
the walls of gold entomb us, the swords of scorn divide;
take not your thunder from us, but take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches, from lies of tongue and pen,
from all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men,
from sale and profanation of honor and the sword,
from sleep and from damnation, deliver us, good Lord.

O God of Earth and Altar is typically paired with one of two hymn tunes: King’s Lynn or the traditional Welsh tune Llangloffan. I prefer Llangloffan, a sturdy tune in a minor key who has a twin sister: Llanfyllin – the same tune but set in a major key.
O God of Earth and Altar Piano Sheet Music

The first time I heard Llangloffan it was paired, not with G.K. Chesterton’s text, but with a more recent text – Bless Now, O God, the Journey – by United Church of Canada pastor Sylvia G. Dunstan (1955-1993). Dunstan’s text, like Chesterton’s, is perfect for Lent so I decided to create a somber, reflective arrangement of Llangloffan for the Lenten season. But, keeping in mind what comes at the end of Lent and Holy Week, I used a Picardy third to end this arrangement with a hopeful sound – and to give a musical nod to twin sister Llanfyllin. Enjoy!

Bless now, O God, the journey that all your people make,
the path through noise and silence, the way of give and take.
The trail is found in desert and winds the mountain round,
then leads beside still waters, the road where faith is found.


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