I’ve loved this hymn forever. The tune is lovely, of course, but the words are some of the most powerful in Christian hymnody. Sufjan Stevens writes some really beautiful and interesting secular music, so I was really excited when I found out he’d done an arrangement of the hymn. Stevens’s version adds new depth to my favorite verse:
“Here I raise my Ebenezer*, hither by thy help I’ve come,
and I hope by thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God.
He, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood.”
By placing the melody underneath the harmony, instead of the other way around, Stevens grounds the sentiments expressed in the lyrics – and, helpfully, makes it easier to hear the harmony in the first place. And, also, banjo. I’m a sucker for the banjo.
*Ebenezer means “stone of help,” and refers to a battle between the Israelites and Philistines. As described in the book of Samuel, God swayed the outcome of the battle in favor of the Israelites, and as a permanent memorial of their salvation, Samuel, an Israelite prophet and judge, dedicated a great stone to the battle – and named it Ebenezer.
Original tune sung by the mighty Mormon Tabernacle Choir: