Dear refuge of my weary soul
with TEMPLE STREET
Text: Origins. Some older accounts of Anne Steele’s life portray her as a lonely, melancholy invalid, but a revival of research in the 21st century indicates that she had been more active and social. She was theologically conversant with Dissenting ministers and “found herself at the centre of a literary circle that included family members from various generations, as well as local literati.” She chose a life of singleness to focus on her craft. Before Christmas 1742, she declined a marriage proposal from contemporary minister-hymnist Benjamin Beddome.
All the same, some of Steele’s sufferings were very real. She lost her mother at age 3, a potential suitor at age 20, her stepmother at 43, and her sister-in-law at 45. She spent many years caring for her father until his death in 1769. For a significant part of her life, she exhibited symptoms of malaria, including persistent pain, fever, headaches, and stomach aches. One editor of her hymns noted that she had been bedridden for “some years” before her death:
When the interesting hour came, she welcomed its arrival, and though her feeble body was excruciated with pain, her mind was perfectly serene. ... She took the most affectionate leave of her weeping friends around her, and at length, the happy moment of her dismission arising, she closed her eyes, and with these animating words on her dying lips, “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” gently fell asleep in Jesus.
This pervasive connection to suffering gave rise to one of her most enduring hymns, “Dear refuge of my weary soul.” This text was first published in her Poems on Subjects Chiefly Devotional, vol. 1 (1760), in eight stanzas of four lines, without music, headed “God the only refuge of the troubled mind” (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1. Poems on Subjects Chiefly Devotional, vol. 1 (1760).
Her text was included in A Collection of Hymns Adapted to Public Worship, edited by Caleb Evans and John Ash (1769), without revision, and it appeared in the second edition of her Poems (1780), posthumously, also without revision.
Text: Analysis. Steele’s text reads like a Psalm of lament. She had an abiding interest in the Psalms, penning 47 metrical paraphrases. The opening line reflects Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” The opening question of stanza five echoes a similar question in Psalm 139:7, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” Other connections to the Psalms are possible and appropriate. In the end, Steele’s guiding counsel is one of patiently waiting and hoping, while seeking refuge in God’s mercy.
Tunes. This hymn was not published with music until 1804, when it appeared in John Moreton’s Sacred Melody, with Moreton’s tune TEMPLE STREET (Fig. 2), melody in the third part (tenor). It is a sturdy, singable English tune, with some potential text painting in the way the melody falls at the word “fainting.” In modern collections, a tune of this range would likely be printed a third lower, in F major. Note the reference to John Rippon’s Selection of Hymns (1787), where Steele’s text appeared as hymn no. 316. This pairing with Moreton’s tune has not endured.
The text itself fell out of use in the 20th century, but was revived via a recording by the band Indelible Grace, featuring Sandra McCracken, on their self-titled debut album in the year 2000. For this recording, a new tune was supplied by Kevin Twit (Fig. 3), who is an ardent advocate for reclaiming old hymns by giving them modern tunes. This version was repeated on their 2012 album, The Hymn Sing, Live in Nashville, in which Twit explained:
I remember being so struck by this text. I thought, this is surely not a song that would have been written in our day and age, because Christians are just afraid to say these kinds of things to God. . . . So many times I have these conversations where people will tell me about their struggles, and they’re convinced that they must not be Christians because they struggle with doubts and unbelief. And I usually say something like, “Well, have you ever read the Psalms?” . . . The songs we sing are formative, one way or the other, and if we’re singing songs where people feel like they have to put on a happy face to be part of the worship, we’re lying to them about what the normal Christian life feels like, and eventually that comes home to roost. . . . The reality is, Jesus is the dear refuge of our weary soul, the one upon whom our fainting hope relies. It’s amazing that you could go to church and be able to say to God, “My hope is fainting,” and he invites us to do that.
by CHRIS FENNER
for Hymnology Archive
3 July 2018
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Cynthia Y. Aalders, “Anne Steele’s Contribution to Eighteenth-Century Hymnody,” The Hymn (summer 2009), p. 17.
Caleb Evans, editor, preface to Miscellaneous Pieces in Verse and Prose (1780) by Theodosia [Anne Steele].
“Dear refuge of my weary soul,” Indelible Grace Hymn Book:
Kevin Twit, “Christian Experience in the Hymns of Anne Steele (1716-1778),” Indelible Grace Hymn Book (11 Oct. 2013):
“Dear refuge of my weary soul,” Hymnary.org: