Singing the Faith: 621 (CD25 #24)
Mary Louise Bringle
“Finlandia” by Jean Sibelius

Correction to music: Correct metre to "11 10 11 10 11 10"

More information

Mary Louise Bringle wrote this hymn for a friend whose mother was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Donté Ford and Michael Hawn comment that "one of the most significant gifts of this text is how the hymn writer gives dignity and theological meaning to God’s 'aging servant'" (v2). 

They also  write that the text, "prompting one to acknowledge the frailty and inadequacies of our earthly vessels, looks to God, who is the source of all life. Dr. Bringle guides the singer through emotions of petition, grieving, and gratitude. Rather than asking for healing, she is concerned about remembering and declaring who God is in the midst of this situation."*

The hymn also builds another pattern, moving gently from self to loved one to a final resting in God's Spirit

As if we were watching over a loved one deteriorating from the effects of dementia, the hymn begins as it were from our own perspective; our need for a loving God who will "speak to our souls". Perhaps the loved one is also included in the following petition: for God to speak to our hearts "by pain and fear abused" - a plea for patient courage". 

Verses 2 and 3 shift focus, first more determinedly to the "ageing servant" who strives to complete their God-given life despite diminishing their strength; and then (verse 3) to God's Spirit, within whom past, present and future is held as one:

All joys remain, with heavenly light pervading.
No valued deed will ever be undone.
Your mind enfolds all finite acts and offerings. . . 

"When memory fades" was written with the tune "Finlandia" in mind.   

*Read Donté and Michael's article in full

Dr Mary Louise Bringle is Professor of Religious Studies at Brevard College, North Carolina. She has had two substantial collections of hymns published by GIA in the States, and her hymns are well represented in published hymnals worldwide. She is also the author of academic books, including Despair: Sickness or Sin?: Hopelessness and Healing in the Christian Life with James W. Fowler.

Mary comments that her hymn writing career began "as something of a fluke", when a former student asked her to write a text for his wedding. In order to find out more about hymns ("I had no clue what 'long meter' was!"), Mary decided to teach a course on the subject, and began translating and adapting early Greek and Latin texts to illustrate different points.

She writes that, as "a historical theologian", she is committed to helping preserve "the legacy of those who have preceded us in the faith"; and, as "a pastoral theologian", she is "concerned to write texts that give voice to the passions that dwell at the heart of deep faith and questioning" - as she does in this hymn.

Joy and Wonder, Living and Longing: 75 hymn texts (2002) and In Wind and Wonder: 75 hymn texts (2007) are both available from GIA.

Also see: “This is the longest night”, with music by Sally Ann Morris. Recommended for Blue Christmas/Service of the Longest Night.