“Ah dearest Jesus, Holy Child/Make Thee a bed soft, undefiled /within my heart that it may be/a quiet chamber kept for thee” (From Heaven Above to Earth I Come)
Martin Luther wrote this hymn for his son. Above I quote the third verse from the old Pilgrim Hymnal version.
First Church, like many contemporary UCC churches, now uses the New Century Hymnal (NCH). Its version of the third verse of this hymn goes like this: “O dearest Jesus, Holy Child/Prepare a bed soft, undefiled,/a holy shrine within my heart/that you and I need never part.”
The tone of these two translations is so different. My guess is that the second translation made an effort to “update” the archaic language.
But the first has such a poetic formality and dignity. The word “Ah” carries a sense of sighing and poignancy (to my ears, anyway). It’s a prayer, released like a breath, that one’s heart may be a fit place for this precious child. May my heart be such that you, Jesus, can make a bed in it. There’s something about that image that is real, concrete, so compelling. Preparing a bed is homey, soft, and relatable. It is not the same as preparing a shrine!
Once again, my commitment to inclusive language is complicated by the exquisite poetry of old language!