Over at Open Book, Amy asks her readers to "raise their hand" if they heard "Here I am Lord" at the liturgy today (well, given the first reading from Samuel, it would be a natural choice). The thread sizzles, counting nearly 200 comments already, almost all derisory of this hymn by Dan Schutte SJ, with a few brave voices (such as ::cough cough:: yours truly) raised in appreciation.
So, what follows is not so much an apologion for this hymn, as a story of just how powerful an impact it had in my life.
It's July 31, the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a holiday at St. Xavier's College in Bombay. The year is most likely 1992, in between the second and third years of "Senior College" there (plus two in "Junior College" -- 11th & 12th grade in American parlance, prior). There is a special function, including the celebration of Mass, for the Feast day in the stately main hall, with its doorways with pointed gothic arches, and the Jesuit motto emblazoned in gold on one wall. "Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam." To the greater glory of God.
I'm in the choir, practicing for Mass. Fr. Frazier (I believe he's now Principal of the college), in the trademark Jesuit outfit, a long-flowing khadi kurta, trousers, and sandals, is trying his best to get us all to sing in tune. It's a volunteer choir, and we haven't sung together. I'm excited, since this is my first time singing in a choir since a First Communion Mass I'd sung at in seventh grade. I don't recall all the music we did. There was this jazzy, funky, vaguely Spiritual number called "Shadrach, Mishach, Abednago," that I've never ever heard again. The Psalm, "Blessed be the Lord." And, "Here I am Lord."
It's been nearly two and a half years since I went to Mass for the first time, back on August 15, 1990. The previous spring, I'd had a very powerful experience during the Holy Week liturgies which was really the first time this religion thing suddenly took on a very concrete, very solid and somewhat frightening reality. There was a Presence behind all this that was beckoning and inviting. Over the summer, on various road-trips, friendships formed over the previous year had solidified and deepened, including one with this Bandra Catholic boy, who was then part of a Jesuit-sponsored group called the "Seekers," a kind of SJ-recruitment club that focused on discussion and discernment of the faith. Kem and I had been talking about relationships, women, and a vocation to the religious life ("joining" in Bandra terminology) all summer. I'd hardly decided to seek Baptism, when I felt that the Lord might be leading me to seek Holy Orders as well. A part of me thought this was silly and incredibly arrogant of me. Besides, I was really afraid this might be true. That morning, Kem had said something along the lines of, "you know, just say yes to Him. Say yes to His will."
So, we're at Mass. I'm digging the singing (so different from the classical Hindustani music of my voice-training). At Communion I stay behind as the Catholics line up. And, very consciously, I pray, "Lord, I will do Your will. Yes!" The choir gets Communion first, and we gather back to sing the Communion song: Here I am Lord.
"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!"
After Mass, as I walked to the Marine Lines station to catch a train to Bandra, I felt as if I were walking on air. Completely at peace.
It may be a shoddy hymn. I'm no musical expert. But the Lord saw it fit to use it for His purposes for me. I cannot sing it without thinking of that warm monsoon morning, when I was still new to the Lord and His ways.