Hymn: The Lord of Sea and Sky ["Here I Am, Lord,"]

Here I Am, Lord, also known as "I, the lord of sea and sky," is a well-known Christian hymn written by Dan Schutte in 1981. Its words are based on Isaiah 6:8 and 1 Samuel 3. It is published by OCP Publications and has become one of the most well-known Catholic hymns in use today.

Despite its Catholic origins, Schutte's hymn is also sung in many Protestant worship services and is found in most Christian hymnals being translated into over 20 languages. It has been used at many Papal Masses and at International World Youth Day events.

Daniel L. Schutte (born 1947, Neenah, Wisconsin) is an American composer of Catholic liturgical music and a contemporary Christian songwriter best known for composing this particular hymn "Here I Am, Lord," also known as "I, the lord of sea and sky", (1981). He grew up in Elm Grove, Wisconsin. He received his education at St. Louis University with a bachelor’s degree in 1973, a master of divinity degree in 1979 at the Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley, California, and a master’s degree in 1980 at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Following graduation, Mr. Schutte joined the Jesuits and served as the director of liturgy at Marquette University (1982-1986). He entered parish ministry in Milwaukee serving as director of music at Immaculate Heart of Mary and then Our Lady of Lourdes parishes. Mr. Schutte has also received an honorary doctorate from the University of Scranton.

He was one of the founding members of the St. Louis Jesuits who popularized a contemporary style of church music set to sacred texts sung in English as a result of the liturgical reforms initiated by Vatican II. He released nine collections with the St. Louis Jesuits and a 30 year anniversary collection in 2005.

This is the story behind this great hymn, as narrated by Daniel L. Schutte:

When I was a young Jesuit, studying theology in Berkeley, California, a friend came to me one day asked me for a favor. "Dan, I know this is late notice, but I’m planning the diaconate ordination ceremony and need a piece of music set to the text of Isaiah chapter 6."  He saw the look of shock on my face knowing I was well aware that the ceremony was only three days away.  I told him that I was sick with an awful case of the flu and didn’t know if I could compose anything suitable in that short time. He encouraged me and I told him that at the very least I would try to complete something in time for the ordination.

I had always loved the particular Scripture passage (Isaiah 6) where God calls Isaiah to be his servant and messenger to the people and Isaiah responds with both hesitation and doubt, but also with a humble willingness to surrender to God. If it was going to work, it would have to be God's power and grace making it happen. Much like Isaiah I was not very sure that I could meet the request my friend had made, but I was willing to try.

I remember sitting at my desk with a blank music score in front of me and asking God to be my strength.   As I sat there praying for help, I remembered also the call of Samuel, where God came calling in the  middle of the night  and asked Samuel to do something beyond what he thought he was capable of. I worked for two days on the piece and I remember being exhausted.  I was making last minute changes to the score as I walked it over to my friend who lived several blocks away. I remember being very unsure of myself, but hoping that it would be what he had wanted for the ordination.

And it was ok.  It was more than ok.  From the very beginning, people loved the piece and clearly identified with the dialogue between God and us that is the core of the song.  In the years following, so  many have spoken to me or written how they had their own experience of God "calling in the night" and  being given the courage to respond.

For me, the story of “Here I Am, Lord” tells of the God who overshadows us, giving power to our stumbling words and the simple works of our hands, and making them into something that can be a grace for people.  The power God gives is far beyond what we could have planned or created.
Hymn: The Lord of Sea and Sky Here I Am, Lord by Dan Schutte

The words of this song begin with proclamation in the verses; this is answered in the refrain by the singer’s commitment to service. This is reflected in the tune. The melody for the verses has a vigorous movement to proclaim the work of God in creation, his continuing love for that creation, and his call for service. This is answered in the repeated refrain where in a quieter, humbler melody the believer responds in self-dedication. The refrain walks a knife-edge between humility and sentimentality, and singers need to be aware of this spiritual danger. Both words and music are by the American Jesuit musician Daniel L Schutte, who has served both on college campuses and in parish ministry.

An unusual attribute of this hymn is the change in point of view that the singer makes between the stanzas and the refrain. The stanzas speak from the perspective of God in the first person singular, while the refrain, though remaining in first person, is from the perspective of the singers of the hymn offering their lives to God.

Each stanza reflects a paradox. The powerful God, creator of “sea and sky,” “snow and rain” and “wind and flame” is also the God who hears the “people cry,” bears the “people’s pain” and “tend[s] the poor and lame.” This is a hymn of transformation. God transforms the darkness into light in stanza one, melts “hearts of stone” with love in stanza two and nourishes the “poor and lame” with the “finest bread”—a clear Eucharistic reference.

Each stanza ends with the question, “Whom shall I send?” Rhetorical questions are very common poetical devices in Christian hymnody, but this is not one of them. The refrain immediately offers the response, “Here I am, Lord.”

We are all grateful for this gift from a Roman Catholic composer to the church universal, a gift that has become one of the hymns most often sung by our generation.

I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in deepest sin
My hand will save.
I who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?

Here I am Lord. Is it I Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

I, the Lord of snow and rain,
I have borne my people's pain.
I have wept for love of them.
They turn away.
I will break their hearts of stone,
Give them hearts for love alone.
I will speak my word to them,
Whom shall I send? [Refrain]

I, the Lord of wind and flame,
I will tend the poor and lame.
I will set a feast for them.
My hand will save.
Finest bread I will provide
Till their hearts be satisfied.
I will give my life to them.

Whom shall I send? [Refrain]

TEXT: Daniel L. Schutte
TUNE: Here I am

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