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“Do listen to music when you’re hiking?”

My questioner was wondering if I plugged in earbuds while I walked and enjoyed music while wandering the trails. In fact, I do like to put on the tunes this way while I’m out for a run in town; they keep me moving at a consistent, fast speed. But when hiking in the wilderness I listen to music in a different way. I listen to memorized music, usually hymns.

Mostly I let words and melody play through my mind as a kind of prayer, but sometimes (but only if I think I’m all alone on the trail) I’ll sing aloud. Besides feeling good in itself, this advertises my presence to any wildlife that might be in the neighbourhood. Neither bears nor moose nor myself like surprise meetings.

Here is one of the songs that often rises up as I hike.

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder

consider all the works thy hand hath made,

I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder,

thy pow'r throughout the universe displayed;


Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee,

how great thou art! How great thou art!

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee,

how great thou art! How great thou art!

But it’s the second verse that always seems so fitting to this happy wanderer in the Rocky Mountains:

When through the woods and forest glades I wander,

I hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;

when I look down from lofty mountain grandeur

and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze;

Then sings my soul…

How Great Thou Art was written in the summer of 1885 by the 26-year-old Carl Boberg. He was walking through the countryside on his way home from a meeting. As he took in the sights and sounds around him, the words formed themselves in his mind, and shaped themselves to a familiar folk melody. In 1891 he published his hymn with the melody and it became more widely known in Sweden. Two decades later a German translation appeared, followed in another twenty years by Russian and Polish versions. Stuart Hine, a missionary in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s, heard it in Russian and produced a final English translation (with his own additions) in 1948. But it wasn’t until 1955, when it was sung at a Billy Graham crusade in Toronto, that the song became widespread and beloved on this continent. I love How Great Thou Art because it describes my own feelings and experience in wilderness hiking. It gives me words of praise and opens my heart to gratitude.

Other songs on my mental playlist also help turn hiking into a conscious experience of prayer. One that I found myself singing the other day was Da pacem Domine (“grant peace, O Lord”), a chant from the Taizé community. The song’s Latin words mean in English, “Grant peace, O Lord. In our times grant peace, O Christ.” As these words and melody run through my mind I pray for peace in my relationships, in my community, and in the world at large. The song creates and leads the prayer.

I hope you have songs of your own to sing in your travels, or maybe while you just sit still in nature. We are created for connection with the earth, and also created to sing. When those two activities are united we have an extraordinary possibility of deep prayer and communion with God. Whether you travel in the high mountain passes or you sit on a patio with a flower pot; whether you have hymns memorized or you are prayerfully reading and silently singing them from a book in hand—you can be immersed by the power of the Holy Spirit in prayer. I hope this summer opens up such possibilities for you.


Pastor Kristian