The familiar hymn, “My Faith Looks Up to Thee,” was written as a poem in 1830 by Ray Palmer (1808-1887) when he was in New York City. Palmer had completed college at Yale University, was teaching at a ladies school in New York, and was preparing for theological studies and ministerial ordination. Palmer, who was an experienced poet, later recorded that the words of this poem came easily to him. Experiencing health issues at the time of its writing, he also noted that he became emotional as he penned this text and was in tears by the time he finished it. While it was initially simply published as a poem, the text was discovered a few years later by the musician Lowell Mason (1792-1872). Dr. Mason, inspired by this text, composed the tune, entitled OLIVET, which is even now used to sing Palmer’s lyrics. “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” was first published as a hymn in 1832. By 1888, the hymnologist Samuel Duffield said that this song was among the three most popular hymns in the United States. Dr. Mason told Palmer that “you may live many years and do many good things, but I think you will be best known to posterity as the author of ‘My Faith Looks Up to Thee!’”
As we begin to gather together again in small groups on the church campus, Greystone’s handbell ensemble recently recorded an eight-bell arrangement of this beautiful hymn of our faith. As we listen to it during our June 7, 2020, online worship service, may our hearts sing anew to our Savior, “Now hear me while I pray, take all my guilt away; O let me from this day be wholly thine!”
Chris Haire, Interim Associate Minister of Music
Resources for this article: The Worshiping Church: A Hymnal, Worship Leaders’ Edition, 1990/1991, Hope Publishing Company; and Handbook to the Baptist Hymnal, 1992, Convention Press.