Hymn by Thomas Troeger Sung at National Prayer Breakfast
By Gustav Spohn
Director of Communications and Publications
As the Edward and Ruth Cox Lantz Professor of Christian Communication, Thomas Troeger '67 B.A. teaches preaching and worship at Yale Divinity School. But Troeger is also a musician and poet with a love of science, and on Feb. 1 his eclectic interests were on full display at the National Prayer Breakfast-when one of his many hymns was sung.
At the breakfast, held in Washington, DC, about 3,000 people-including the President, First Lady, several Cabinet secretaries, and many members of Congress-raised their voices to the melody of Troeger's hymn Praise the Source of Faith and Learning , a hymn that honors a single source-God- as a common foundation for all knowledge and faith.
Troeger learned that his hymn was being sung from an e-mail sent to him by Francis S. Collins '74 Ph.D., director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health and the keynote speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast.
"I'm thrilled about that because there are people from all kinds of persuasions there, and I'm very eager for people to see that faith and intellect go together very well," Troeger said after learning that his hymn had been selected.
"I'm excited about it, you know, because I've written a significant number of hymns that deal with modern science and faith and draw positively upon modern science," noted Troeger. "This is not the first time I've had scientists respond to me."
The concluding stanza of Troeger's hymn speaks of the tensions between knowledge and faith but also their ultimate harmony:
As two currents in a river
fight each other's undertow
till converging they deliver
one coherent steady flow,
blend, O God, our faith and learning
till they carve a single course
while they join as one returning
praise and thanks to you their source.
from Thomas H. Troeger
Borrowed Light: hymn texts, prayers, and poems
copyright © 1994 Oxford University Press
In asking Troeger's permission to use the hymn, Collins had written, "In my remarks on February 1, I will try to explain the ways in which science can be a form of worship of God the creator. But for many of us, words are so much more powerful when coupled with music-and your remarkable lyrics, sung to Hyfrydol, would be the perfect summation of what I want to convey."
Collins ended his address with an introduction to Troeger's hymn:
"To conclude this homily, I propose to do something risky-to ask you all to join me in singing a song. Some may find it ironic that last year's speaker, the rock star Bono, spoke about justice and world economics, but passed up the chance to sing. Now this year's speaker, a scientist who might be considered a bit of a nerd, proposes to sing and play guitar...My brothers and sisters, lift your hearts and voices with me, as we praise the God who is the source of all faith and learning."
Troeger wrote the hymn after being commissioned by Duke Divinity School, which wanted a hymn that would serve as a musical complement to the school's motto: Eruditio et Religio-Knowledge and Faith.
This is not the first time scientists have responded to a Troeger hymn. Once, he said, a group of geologists at the University of Southern California contacted him about a hymn he wrote about plate tectonics theory, called Where Mountains Lift the Eye . On another occasion the renowned physicist Freeman Dyson was in touch. "He once wrote me a beautiful handwritten note about how much my hymns mean to him," Troeger recalled. One of Troeger's hymns interweaves the account of creation in Genesis, Chapter I, with big bang theory, entitled First the wind upon the water .
Praise the Source is especially popular, Troeger reported, for use in baccalaureate services. "I've gotten scores, just scores, of programs that were sent from various universities and schools showing me how they used it, often with a thank-you note because it's non-sectarian," he said. "You'll notice it's very theocentric. Muslim students have felt very good singing it. Jewish students have felt good singing it. Christian students have felt good singing it."
The love of science may be in Troeger's genes. "My father was a fabulous inventor," said Troeger. "He had something like 46 patents, 44 patents to his name." When Troeger graduated from high school, he took with him a math and science award, and several technical schools offered him scholarships based on his scientific bent. Nonetheless, headed for the ministry, he decided Yale would be a better choice and enrolled there as an undergraduate.