Dear Lord and Father of mankind

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
forgive our foolish ways;
re-clothe us in our rightful mind,
in purer lives thy service find,
in deeper reverence praise.

The words of this most popular of English hymns are by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-92), an American Quaker poet. The hymn comprises six verses (most hymn books omit verse 4) from the poem 'The Brewing of Soma' (1872). Soma is an hallucinogenic drink probably made from the fungus Amanita muscaria, or fly agaric, and used in Vedic rituals by Hindus in India in order to have union with the Deity. In the poem Whittier sees the drinking of soma, like the use of incense and music in church, as distracting the mind from its proper purpose of worship.

In sensual transports - wild as vain
We brew in many a Christian fane
The heathen Soma still!

After this catalogue of feverish distractions Whittier suddenly, with great effect, introduces the note of quiet: 'Dear Lord and Father of mankind', and the rest of the hymn in which is expressed the Quaker conviction that God is to be found in silence and stillness, through the inward peace of the worshipper rather than through outward stimulation and sensual excitement. Biblical references include, verse 2; Mark 1:16-20, Matthew 4:18-22, verse 3; Luke 6:1-12, and verse 5; 1 Kings 19:11-12.

Tune - Repton

This hymn is generally sung to the tune Repton, by Sir Hubert Parry (1848-1918). Parry's tune was originally written in 1888 for the contralto aria 'Long since in Egypt's pleasant land' in his oratorio Judith. In 1924 Dr George Gilbert Stocks, director of music at Repton School, set it to 'Dear Lord and Father of mankind' in a supplement of tunes for use in the school chapel. Despite the need to repeat the last line of words, the tune Repton provides an inspired matching of words and music.

Nigel Day
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 10th November 2005