It was as though Lisa Schubert was hearing her words for the first time.
Written months earlier, they soared through Duke Chapel on a Sunday morning in mid-October, rising from the choir and congregation, flying on notes that thundered from the chapel’s organ.
Pursues my heart of stone?
Although I long to do my will
And leave God’s work alone . . .”
Schubert wrote the words last spring as her entry in the chapel’s 2003 hymn-writing competition. Selected in March as the winner among 30 submissions, Schubert’s hymn was set to music submitted in a separate competition and premiered Oct. 19 at the chapel’s 11 a.m. worship service.
The debut left Schubert almost speechless.
“It absolutely blew me away,” said Schubert, a second-year M.Div. student and a University Scholar from Indianapolis. “It was very powerful. And being at Duke Chapel, with the choir singing it . . . what a place to glorify God.”
The experience of writing a hymn text and having another person set it to music taught her not just about the art of hymn writing, but also about the nature of church, Schubert said.
“It really reaffirmed for me how important it is to work together in the body of Christ,” she said. “My words alone meant nothing. They needed others to write the music to make it a whole experience.”
Before she entered the competition, Schubert had never written a hymn. A journalism and French major at Indiana University, she had written countless news and feature articles. Growing up, she also had written poetry, mostly jingles and light verse for family birthdays.
When she saw a flier announcing Duke Chapel’s annual hymn writing competition, she decided to give it a try.
Over two to three weeks, she studied hymns, analyzing their form and structure, rhythm and rhyme pattern. Jotting down ideas in class, testing them on friends and classmates, she wrote and rewrote her hymn, and prayed. Based on Isaiah 6:8 and entitled “Whence Comes this Voice,” the text is intended to convey the struggle that comes with God’s call and the dying to self that must occur in the response, says Schubert.
“I thought about it a lot and I allowed the Spirit to lead me,” she says. “I tried to draw on my experience as a divinity student, and like all Christians, as one called to ministry.”
After her hymn text was selected last spring, the chapel held a second competition for the music. The winning entry, composed by 1975 Duke graduate Kathleen Ryan Clute of Concord, Calif., was chosen in June from 10 entries submitted by alumni.
Though they have never met, Clute and Schubert have exchanged e-mails.
“Because of her music, the complete hymn became more beautiful,” said Schubert. It was also more solemn than she had imagined.
“Kathleen’s music added a dimension to the words—almost a haunting tone. As I listened I envisioned the struggle, this wrestling with God, that occurs with call.”
William H. Willimon, dean of the chapel, had high praise for Schubert’s work.
“Lisa’s hymn text fits in perfectly with Duke Chapel’s emphasis on vocation and servant leadership,” he said. “It is a beautiful statement from a young person about God’s summoning love.”
The competition—and the $500 awards that Schubert and Clute each received—are sponsored by the Waldo Beach Hymnody Endowment. A former professor of Christian ethics at the divinity school, Beach was a composer and an avid author of hymns.
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