My Soul is Filled with Joy / Holy is Your Name (Magnificat – Wild Mountain Thyme) This is a setting of the Magnificat / Canticle of Mary (from Luke 1) to the Scottish folk-tune “Wild Mountain Thyme” (also known as “Will ye Go Lassie, Go”).
The author is unknown: It was published in 1978 in “Songs of the Spirit” (A Roman Catholic collection of songs used in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement), though it may have been in earlier publications.
My soul is filled with joy As I sing to God my saviour: You have looked upon your servant, You have visited your people.
And holy is your name Through all generations! Everlasting is your mercy To the people you have chosen, And holy is your name.
I am lowly as a child, But I know from this day forward That my name will be remembered, For all will call me blessed.
I proclaim the pow’r of God, You do marvels for your servants; Though you scatter the proud-hearted And destroy the might of princes.
To the hungry you give food, send the rich away empty. In your mercy you are mindful of the people you have chosen.
In your love you now fulfill What you promised to your people. I will praise you, Lord, my saviour, Everlasting is your mercy.
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, or he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
It is sometimes (often?) asked – how can we correlate Matthew and Luke’s infancy narratives? There are bits which can be seen as “yeah, that makes sense”. While other bits don’t seem to leave enough time, if this then that – really? How does that work? One thing that particularly puzzles me is this: Mary putting together all those bits of the Old Testament apparently at the drop of a hat to produce a startling hymn of praise, which has become known as the Magnificat, that has been used subsequently to produce more poetry and hymns.
Some manuscripts attribute the magnificat to Elizabeth while Eric Franklin in his commentary on Luke suggests it is entirely the work of Luke. Childless, elderly Elizabeth would be the first to agree with “the Lord… has looked with favour on his servant … generations will call me blessed …” for she has undoubtedly faced censure for not having children. While inexperienced, unmarried Mary would want God to “show his strength … lift up the lowly… mercy …”. Incidentally, I can also quite imagine Mary, sitting in the sun in Ephesus, telling Luke Jesus’ life story and reciting this as a polished, finished work. She has pondered things in her heart.
Mary and Elizabeth together celebrate the grace, blessing and mercy they have been shown. Both would be aware how little they merited divine grace, because they were women and because of the things which were happening to them. Any one of us can say it and mean ourself, starting from “My soul … my spirit …” and ending “ …forever”.
God’s grace extends from women of little importance, living in a vassal country of dubious economic, military or political worth to the whole world. This song is about the inclusivity of redemption, not Yahweh but Lord, not nationalistic but universal. It is not for the socially marginalised or the great and powerful: it is for all, unmerited and undeserved.
Lord help us to ponder all the blessings you have given that we may support those who have yet to discover your unconstrained grace. Mighty one, strengthen us, your Church, especially as we become more marginalised and disenfranchised in our own society. We feel powerless to achieve anything of note, reassure us that everlasting is your mercy and you will accomplish your plan. Amen.
The Rev’d Ruth Browning is a retired minister and member of Thornbury URC in Gloucestershire.