Sightings in Christian Music
Many years ago, we attended the summer school sponsored by St. Olaf College at the University of Oslo. We were two kids right out of college, married only a few days, going to school together with two hundred American students in a strange land, enjoying it but also a bit homesick at times. However, on our first Sunday in Oslo we attended the Bethlehem Mission Covenant Church where we had the good fortune of meeting a lovely family, the Ramstads. About eight weeks into our stay, they invited us for a weekend in their summer home high in the mountains of central Norway.
That Friday in August had been cold with a constant downpour of rain. After our morning class, Olaf picked us up at the university and we began the long ride in rain and fog through the countryside. We thought we would never get there. With no fast-food restaurants along the way, we were tired and hungry. After many hours, the road became little more than a cow path until finally it disappeared. We could see nothing. "Now," said Olaf, "we have to walk the rest of the way." Lugging our bags and supplies through brush and stumbling over stony ground we made our way up the steep incline. It seemed like a Norwegian mile.
Then we were there. The door of the mountain home flung open with a hilarious welcome. After the hugs and kisses and the laughter of their five children with the mixture of Norwegian and English chatter, we entered a large room ablaze with what seemed to be a hundred candles, a room of light wood with warm rosemaling colors in blue, red, and gold which Carl Larsson could have painted. With the table set and the delicious aroma of food filling the air, the feast began. Food never tasted better—ham, fresh rye bread, cheese, and lingon followed by our favorite dessert—a caramel-crusted custard called flan; then afterwards good strong coffee in the living room.
Finishing our final cup, the fog suddenly lifted and sunlight brighter than candles filled the room. This was the signal for the white-haired patriarch to lead the family out onto the deck of the cottage. You can’t imagine the breath-taking sight. With the fog lifted, we could see for the first time the majestic mountains of Hallingdal and the green valley below with emerald lakes glistening in the distance, patches of yellow flowers, grazing cows and sheep with their little tinkling bells, and the sun casting the long shadows of benediction over the pastoral scene.
Now came the time for the evening hymn. The old pastor with his fog-horn voice led the family in a song which, until then, we had never heard. "Bred dina vida vingar, O Jesus över mig." Tears filled our eyes. We felt as close to heaven as one could. No longer homesick, we were home, surrounded by Christian friends and sheltered by the comfort and warmth of God’s protecting grace. Imagine then our delight when in the following year we were able to sing this hymn by Lina Sandell from our new "green" hymnal:
Thy holy wings, dear Savior, spread gently over me;
and through the long night watches I’ll rest secure in thee.
Whatever may betide me, be thou my hiding place,
and let me live and labor each day, Lord, by thy grace.
—Hymn 80 The Covenant Hymnal: A Worshipbook
We will never sing that song without seeing that scene looking out over the valley of Hemsedal surrounded by the mountains of Hallingdal. A tender, living memory from our honeymoon trip to Norway—now fifty years ago this past June!