URC Daily Devotion  26th  September 2021

Sunday September 26, 2021  Psalm 61

Jesus, Saviour, Lord, lo, to thee I fly;
Saranam, Saranam, Saranam;
thou the Rock, my refuge that’s  higher than I:
Saranam, Saranam, Saranam.

 In the midst of foes I cry to thee,
 from the ends of earth wherever I may be;
 my strength in helplessness, O answer me:
 Saranam, Saranam, Saranam.

 In thy tent give me a dwelling place,
 and beneath thy wings may I find sheltering grace;
 O lift on me the sunshine of thy face:
 Saranam, Saranam, Saranam.

 O that I my vows to thee may pay,
 and that by thy faithfulness to me each day
 may live, and on thy love my burdens lay:
 Saranam, Saranam, Saranam.

Yesterday, today, fore’er the same,
 lo, the heritage of all who bear thy name;
 to ransom them from sin the Savior came:
 Saranam, Saranam, Saranam.

Words D T Niles © 1990, 2000 Christian Conference of Asia
You can hear the song here


Once sung, rarely forgotten – rhythm, repetition and a hummable tune helps this hymn to stay in the mind and heart. The Tamil word saranam means “refuge” or “I take refuge”, although there’s some debate as to whether its Sanskrit root means “surrender to God”.  There’s perhaps a hint of that meaning in the third verse which speaks of vows to Jesus.

The words and tune combined tell a story of the Gospel being “planted into the local soil” of the people, as the song’s author and translator D T Niles intended.  A Methodist minister from Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, Niles was active in the international ecumenical movement with interests in mission and evangelism.  Using a traditional tune from Pakistan and paraphrasing the Psalm in Tamil, he  translated the hymn into English and included it in the first East Asian Christian Conference Hymnal in 1963.

This was an early stage in the development of an indigenous hymnody where people sing their theology in their mother tongue using the rhythms and musical idioms of the culture around them. The repetition of “saranam” is like a Hindu mantra, which is a form that would have been familiar to D T Niles.  Originally composed in a relatively slow Western style, the hymn has since been arranged to be closer to the source musical style and can be sung at various speeds. It sounds quite different when accompanied on an organ or an Indian harmonium and tabla drums. And yet the meaning is the same, translated into Christianity from an ancient Jewish Psalm –  “you are my refuge. I look to you for safety when everything around me is in turmoil, and I know I can rely on your faithfulness”.


Saviour, companion, friend
Against the currents we follow you
Revive our faith by your faithfulness
Always seeking, ever onwards
Nurture in us our love of you
Above, beneath, behind, beside us for ever
Magnify our praise and utter commitment to you


Today’s writer

 Revd Fiona Thomas, freelance facilitator, member at Christ Church, Bellingham


New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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