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The story of how the hymn “Here I Am, Lord” came to be

J-P Mauro - published on 05/10/18

Hymnist Dan Schutte never thought this tune would become as popular as it is today..

Any Catholic churchgoer in the last 30 years is probably familiar with the hymn “Here I Am, Lord,” written by Dan Schutte in 1981. The lyrics, which describe a Christian answering God’s call, are based on Isaiah 6:8 and 1 Samuel 3.

The tune has met with success since it was first published by OCP Publications. In 2004, The Tablet, an international Catholic magazine, reported “Here I Am, Lord” as a readers’ favorite, while a 2013 survey conducted by Songs of Praise named it the 5th most popular hymn in Britain.

The hymn’s composer, Dan Schutte, however, never thought that this tune would take off the way it did.

When Schutte was 31 years old, he was a Jesuit studying theology in Berkeley when a friend asked him to write a song for an upcoming diaconate ordination Mass. Mr. Schutte told America Magazine, “I sort of had to catch my breath, because he was knocking on my door on Wednesday and I knew the ordination was on Saturday.”

He was instructed to make sure that the song contained imagery of the word of God, the light of Christ, and the bread and wine. At this Schutte, who had been suffering through a bad bout of the flu, thought, “Gosh, I don’t know what to do with that.”

The feverish songwriter sat at his desk with guitar in hand and no idea where to begin. That’s when he did the only thing he could: he said a prayer.

He petitioned the Lord, “God, if I’m going to do this for my friend, you’re going to have to help me.”

America Magazine has his process:

Mr. Schutte said he often uses Scripture as the basis of his songs, so as he thought about the idea of vocation for the ordination Mass, he turned to the stories of the prophets, like Jeremiah, who asked God to give him the right words to say. “In all those stories, all of those people God was calling to be prophets have expressed in one way or another their humanness or their self-doubt,” Mr. Schutte said.

When finished, he sought feedback from the St. Louis Jesuits, a group of young Jesuit songwriters who popularized folk-influenced liturgical music in the 1970s. It was their criticisms and suggestions that changed the original chorus of “Here I am, Lord; here I stand, Lord” to “Here I am, Lord; is it I, Lord?”.

All said and done, it took just 2 days for the hymn we all know and love to be completed. Schutte delivered the song to his friend, still scribbling edits along the way. “At that point,” he told America, “I really had no sense that the song would be any good, and I was actually very nervous.”

Schutte notes that he does not remember much from the ordination, except that people were praising his song by the end. He told America, “I couldn’t figure it out,” Mr. Schutte said. “If only they knew the story of the last two days of my life trying to make this work!”

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