God's Own Child, I Gladly Say It
GOD’S OWN CHILD, I GLADLY SAY IT. Illustrated by Jonathan Mayer. Sioux Falls: Kloria, 2016. 28 pages. Hardcover. $14.95.
Shortly before arriving at my parish in 2011, a beloved pillar of one of my congregations lost her battle with cancer after many years. Her name was/is Carmen, and though I never met her, her husband (since remarried), some of her children, and many of her grandchildren are still members of my congregation.
If environmental activists can speak of “carbon footprints” it should be acceptable for congregations to speak of the “theological footprints” of their cherished saints. Carmen left a sizable “theological footprint” behind her when she died, and it is still keenly felt six years later.
One of the discernible features of Carmen’s theological footprint is the congregation’s love for the hymn “God’s Own Child I Gladly Say It” (Lutheran Service Book #594). The Lutheran Service Book sets the text of “God’s Own Child I Gladly Say It” to the tune BACHOFEN, which isn’t the easiest tune in the world to pick up. However, my congregation sings it with gusto, and it remains for them one of their favorite and most-cherished hymns.
It should be a cherished hymn for all Christians. Its words powerfully convey the comfort, assurances, and promises of God delivered to sinners in baptism. I’m particularly fond of stanza three, which thumbs its nose at Satan and says, “Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ! | Drop your ugly accusation, I am not so soon enticed. | Now that to the font I’ve traveled, | All your might has come unraveled, | And, against your tyranny, | God, my Lord, unites with me.”
Imagine my delight then when liturgical artist, Jonathan Mayer, put his creative talents into illustrating this beloved hymn! His efforts of illustrating this gospel-rich song are found in a hardcover book that goes by the same name as the hymn and is published by Kloria Publishing of Sioux Falls, SD.
The words of the hymn “God’s Own Child I Gladly Say It” as translated by Robert E. Voelker account for the entire text of this book. The only “commentary” you’ll find within its pages is entirely visual. That is, the watercolor vignettes provided by Mayer.
Mayer tells a story with his illustrations. The illustrations take you through the entire faith-life of a single child of God. The first page begins with the child being baptized, and the final image is of that same individual adoring the Lamb who sits on the throne in paradise while his “flesh awaits its raising.”
Each illustration is faithful to the text and is appropriately Christocentric.
My wife and I were recently blessed with our third child, Levi. On the occasion of his baptism, one of my parishioners gave Levi this book. Levi is, as of today, only six weeks old, but his sister is twenty-two months old and his brother is five years old. They have gravitated toward this book and frequently ask me to sing this song to them before bed, all the while they, aggressively, turn the pages.
This hymn, illustrated over twenty-eight color pages, has become an invaluable pedagogical tool for my family. On the page that has the text “Do I need earth’s treasures many? | I have one worth more than any | that brought me salvation free | lasting to eternity” Mayer has an image of a toddler sitting in a room full of toys. However, rather than looking at the toys, the toddler has his gaze fixed upon his baptismal certificate hanging on the wall. A simple image like this allows me to ask my son, “What’s the boy looking at?’ My son didn’t know. So I tell him, “He’s looking at a baptismal certificate. Do you know what a baptismal certificate is?” My son shakes his head, so I tell him, “A baptismal certificate is a piece of paper that reminds you that you’ve been baptized.” This naturally leads into the next question, “Do you know what baptism is?” This leads into a conversation about sin and forgiveness which leads into a conversation about Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection. “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It” is a wonderful book and tool and it is one I am very glad to have in our home.
In addition to the illustration of the hymn, the book concludes with the song set to two separate tunes: a tune by Johann Caspar Bachofen (the one used by the Lutheran Service Book) and a tune by Wolfgang Wessnitzer.
This hardcover book with twenty-eight pages of gospel-rich illustrations printed on sturdy paper make this book durable for my not-so-gentle children. It was given to my son as a baptismal gift and I’m confident it will survive the destructive hands of his siblings long enough for him to also enjoy turning its pages and pointing at its illustrations. I’ve enjoyed having this book so much that it will soon become my “go-to” baptismal gift to my own godchildren and nieces and nephews.
I hope that Jonathan Mayer teams up with Kloria Publishing to illustrate another hymn, and when he does so, I hope he gives serious consideration to illustrating “Christ, the Lord of Hosts, Unshaken.” Of course, it’s not common for people to exchange gifts on the occasion of Michaelmas, so maybe undertaking Luther’s “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come” makes better business sense.
If you’re a pastor, godparent, or just like giving away good books with faithful gospel themes and emphases, “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It” is a book you’ll want to have at the ready for all those gift-giving occasions, such as baptisms, birthdays, and Christmases.
Rev. Timothy A. Koch, Pastor of Concordia and Immanuel Lutheran Churches in Cresbard and Wecota, South Dakota.