Remembered advice from a veteran missionary: “When you’re back home in your passport country leading a church service and the dysentery kicks in, just announce a hymn with six verses and slip out the side door.” It seems like sound advice. And long hymns seem to have enjoyed the height of popularity once. (Were the 18th and 19th Centuries also times of frequent gastro-intestinal disturbances?) In my copy of the hymnal, Inspiring Hymns, there are a few songs with six verses, many songs with four or five. One five-verse song, “Arise, My Soul, Arise,” by Charles Wesley has a handwritten notation above it, “Help.” One fun thing about buying used books is that handwritten notations make for creative speculation, and I can only laugh at the possible meanings of this scribbler, especially when the word “help” is subliminally linked with “dysentery” and “lengthy song services.”
Not only hymn writers favored length. The Psalmists did too. Psalm 119 is divided into twenty-two sections one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Each section contains eight verses for a total of 176. By way of contrast, there’s one—Psalm 117—that is only two verses long. (I know–the Bible was not originally divided into verses—that came later.) The fact is that Psalm 117 is short, not the psalm to use on the day of an amoebic attack—unless you resort to that convention of modern praise and worship—sing and repeat!
Edward M. Curtis states, in his article, “Ancient Psalms and Modern Worship,” that apart from the fact that psalms were most likely set to music and used in worship, more specific information is not known. Music certainly makes words both interesting and memorable. I used to play tape recordings of John Michael Talbot singing various psalms. I used an old cassette player whose weak speakers I enhanced with an inverted gallon jar for sound box. In those days I was plagued by nightmares, something that thankfully I seem to have outgrown, and so on dreadful three a.m. awakenings, I employed the same treatment King Saul used for emotional and spiritual torment—music. Music appeals to the whole person because it’s symmetrical, mathematical, and emotional. Joined with the poetry of the Psalms, music can provide the spiritual tying up of loose ends of our lives. And so for nightmares, insomnia, and the night time worries that plague mothers everywhere, I recommend a cup of red tea and a psalm, preferably a lengthy one with at least six verses!