Using Hymns to Teach the Faith
Student Written Hymns & Other Poems: Poetry Based on the Bible
Do You or Your Students Suffer from Metrophobia?
“What’smetrophobia?” you ask! “The fear of big cities?” Actually, no. It’s the fear of poetry.
The suffix, metro, in Greek, métron, refers to the meter found in poetry can be defined as the irrational fear (phobia) of the meter found in most poems. It’s a relatively new term and, perhaps, you have suffered from it in varying degrees whenever poetry is studied in school and where terms like iambic pentameter scared the living daylights out of you. The same people who have a fear of the study or writing of poetry, love poetry even if they will say they hate it.
Many students (of all ages) groan about poetry, and yet they can sing their favorite hit songs from memory. My six-year-old granddaughter belts out songs from “Frozen” without ever having looked at the written lyrics. Young kids can sing or recite “Away in a Manger” and “Itsy Bitsy Spider” without any noticeable trauma. Rhyme and rhythm comes naturally to them if they are exposed to poems at a young age. The heartbreak of metrophobia may simply be a learned response to the academic study of poetry, not something that is innate.
A Few Suggestion to Help Students Write Poetry and Hymns
- For younger children, or older ones if you like, take a tune such as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and do a class collaboration poem using its meter and rhyme scheme (don’t tell them they are writing poetry – it might spoil the fun). The meter of “Twinkle, Twinkle” is 77 77 77. Its rhyme scheme is AA BB AA or AA BB CC if you wish. Here’s an example of a poem I wrote for and with children in 2nd grade a few years ago to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle.” I wrote the words on the white board leaving out the rhyming words at the end of every other line as follows (try guessing the rhymes yourself – answers to follow):
Now I close my eyes to sleep. A (Seven “beats” per syllables, per line – count them out.)
Lord, I pray you, watch and ____ A 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 etc…
All my friends and family here, B Now I close my eyes to sleep
Everyone that I hold ____, B Can you feel the rhythm? Of course you can!
In your safe and loving arms, C TUM – ta, TUM– ta, TUM – ta, TUM
Far from danger, free from ____. C (The rhythm is trochaic, if you must know.)
Did you guess what the rhyming words might be? Here’s what they came up with: keep, dear, harms. After a little playing around with words, they came up with the following alternative lines and rhymes.
Now I close my eyes to sleep.
Lord, I pray you, when I weep,
Keep my friends and family near,
So I will not have to fear.
And let me rest in your arms,
Far away from all alarms.
How did the children find all these new rhyming words? It’s simple. I projected the RHYME ZONE website-https://www.rhymezone.com/ – on a screen so they could see every alternative rhyming word for each line.
- While “Twinkle, Twinkle” is a simple tune with which to get started and there are five hymn tunes in the Lutheran Service Book that are written in 77 77 77 meter. Try singing either example of “Now I Close My Eyes to Sleep” to the tune DIX (“As with Gladness Men of Old” – LSB 397) or GETHSEMANE (“Go to Dark Gethsemane” – LSB 436). Notice how a different tune transforms the character of the poetry.
- Here are some more hymns written by Sunday school, elementary, and high school students I’ve taught over the years using what might be call the “Jesus, Jesus” introduction. All can be sung to the tune of “As with Gladness Men of Old” or “Go to Dark Gethsemane.” Note that the first line of the poem repeats at the end. This repetition technique sometimes makes it easier for student to write a complete stanza without being frustrated by coming up with another set of rhymed couplets.
Jesus, Jesus, came to earth, In a stable was his birth
To fulfill what was foretold in the prophesies of old.
Jesus, Jesus, came to earth, In a stable was his birth.
Wise men, wise men, from afar, Searched by camel for a star.
When they found the baby dear, Mary, Joseph, kneeling near,
Worshipped him with gifts and praise, Loved and served him all their days.
Jesus, Jesus, all alone, Standing there at Pilate’s throne
Whipped and beaten, held to scorn, On his head a crown of thorn.
Jesus, Jesus, all alone, Standing there at Pilate’s throne.
Jesus, Jesus, from the grave, Risen now for us today. (near rhyme)
He is with us now to stay, Nevermore to go away
Jesus, Jesus, from the grave, Risen now for us today.
In the examples above, you will note that the strict rules of punctuation and grammar are “flexible” when starting out. Corrections are be made in the editing process, but don’t start off by worrying about “jots and tittles.” Let them experiment with the joy of language, rhyme, and rhythm first. The grammatical details will come later, as they must in all writing. It’s called the creative process.
Model Activity Your Own Poetry for Your Students
Before teaching about writing a poem of any kind, it is essential that you write a poem or two as examples for your students. If you say, “I’ve written a couple of poems about Jesus that I’d like to share with you,” your students will be all ears! If nothing else, try writing a silly poem such as:
This poem I’ve written took an hour! Or… Noah floated in an ark made of wood.
Cuz I wrote it in the shower. It floated as good as any ark should.
The paper got wet, When raining was finished,
And you sure can bet, And waters diminished,
It sure took a lot of will power! He got out on dry land where he stood!
Teaching the Faith through the Art of Poetry
Through the art of poetry, children can learn how to express the great stories of the Bible in their own new ways. I believe there is a potential hymn writer in every class you teach, so give children many opportunities to write poetry in the coming year. You can simply start by writing some short rhymes about their favorite biblical characters and/or Bible stores, e.g., Goliath was a giant, but David was defiant. Goliath was tough, but David had enough. David slung a rock that rang Goliath’s clock. The giant was dead, and that’s enough said. Remember: “For with God nothing is impossible.” Luke 1:37. Writing poetry with children is a something they shouldn’t miss. Do your best and by God you’ll be blessed!
“…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:18b-21.
Next time: Hymns and Poems Based on Photography and Painting
 A song or hymn written to the tune of a nursery rhyme or folk song is sometimes call a “Piggy Back Poem.” See: Little Ones Sing Praise: Christian Songs for Young Children from Concordia Publishing House ( https://www.cph.org/p-4562-little-ones-sing-praise-christian-songs-for-young-children.aspx?REName=&plk=0&Lk=0&rlk=0 ), page 107 for examples of piggy back songs.
 The words “lines” and “rhymes” are called “near rhymes.” They are used by the best of poets, so don’t be picky if kids use them.
 The most robust and easy to use rhyming website among the many that exist is Rhyme Zone. Once you try it you’ll see what I mean.
 See page 1009 in the index of the LSB to find these tunes.
 These poems are limericks with an AA BB A rhyme scheme. I’ll be talking about them in my poetry sectional at the 2022 LEA Convocation. Hope to see you there!
 About one third of the Old Testament is poetry (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs). There’s also the Song of Moses (Ex. 15 & Rev. 15:2-4); the song of Miriam (Ex. 15:21); David’s victory song (1 Sam. 18:7); and, of course, Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55. See: https://overviewbible.com/bible-songs/ for a compendium of songs in the Bible.