Words of hymns trigger sweet memories

Published 12:36 am Saturday, March 11, 2017

As azalea blooms appear all around town and a blossoming dogwood tree down the street shows off its beauty, my thoughts drift toward one of my favorite spring-time retreats, a dulcimer festival. Every spring for more than twenty years, my husband and I packed up our RV and headed to Tannehill Historic State Park to participate in the annual Southern Appalachian Dulcimer Festival.

I grew to love the sound of dulcimer music that was most appealing floating in the breeze under a canopy of trees or around an evening campfire. Most of all I enjoyed the friendly conversation of those who shared their love of the instrument and the tunes they played. In a big circle or at a small campsite gathering, each person takes a turn selecting and leading a song. All have favorites, whether they are folk songs or hymns.

I found among this music a song of worship and adoration that always touched me to the core. Dulcimer players call it “Holy Manna” which calls for prayer while the Gospel is being preached. It promises that if the “brethren” and sisters pray, “Holy Manna” will be “showered all around.”

As I hear those words, a vision of revivals and camp meetings come to mind. I picture godly men and women praying in pews of small country churches or kneeling in brush arbors as the preacher appeals to them to commit their lives to Christ. How could that not stir one’s soul?

Once under the shade of a canopy of trees, I heard a young woman sing one verse of “Holy Manna,” accompanied by dulcimers. Her clear, sweet voice penetrated the stillness of the evening. I was so moved, tears welled in my eyes.

Several years ago, I found four verses of that song in a daily devotional book. It was listed as “Brethren, We Have Met to Worship.” It was in a book called “Amazing Grace,” by Kenneth W. Osbeck. It relates brief stories of 366 inspiring hymns. That particular hymn was featured for Sept. 6. I learned that it first appeared around 1825 and has always been a favorite in the South. According to Osbeck, nothing was known of the writer of the text, George Atkins. My husband and I started using the book that year as one of our daily devotional studies. When I turned a new page to the hymn for the day, he searched for the selected hymn in our United Methodist Hymnal.

Besides “Holy Manna’s popularity among dulcimer folks, “Amazing Grace” also is a favorite. It is often called for at festivals and or at campsites when a few friends gather to sing and strum dulcimers. It was inspired by a sailor involved in slave trade. His fear during a shipwreck helped convince him to turn to God.

The hymn stories were an inspiration of sharing God’s blessings in a circle of musicians or beside glowing embers at a campfire during cool, early spring evenings. I praise God for the sweet memories.


Nina Keenam is retired from the newspaper business. Her column appears on Saturdays.