"I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. — I Corinthians 14:15

"The Bible has inspired countless poems, small gleaming gems and grand epics alike. Some — with or without the artists' permission or religious intention — have been paired with musical scores in hymnals, including poems by Christina Rossetti, E.E. Cummings, and Robert Frost. Others, including T.S. Eliot's 'A Song for Simeon,' Slyvia Plath's 'Lady Lazarus,' and Langston Hughes's 'Carol of the Brown King,' allude to biblical stories to convey contemporary human concerns. Simeon, Lazarus, and the Magi are instantly familiar to us; their stories are a sort of literary shorthand, as their plights and triumphs mirror our own. Only a fine line exists at times between sacred and secular works, but hymns must rise from the page as song, maintaining their beauty and strength under the burden of repetition.

"Hymns present the Word of God through the words of poets; they silence the hectic world, then reverberate within our spirits long after the last notes have faded. They bind us to our religious forebears, ancestors, and future generations at once, embracing the Gospel as they once did, and as they will.

"Isaac Watts once likened singing hymns to 'breathing toward heaven,' offering our praise to the God that gave us life with his own breath. But when we sing hymns in church, surrounded by our families, neighbors, and choirs, we can overlook the messages that their authors struggled to perfect. We become so aware of our voices, in keeping time and staying on key, that the ideas and emotions we sing recede into the familiar music. Reading the verse in a quiet moment outside of a church setting, on the other hand, encourages a kind of communion with God. Once reacquainted with the original poems, we can 'sing with understanding,' guided, assuaged, and with our spirits bound for glory.

"Catholic, Moravian, Lutheran, Anglican, Baptist, Methodist — these and a host of other denominations have poets who speak to their specific doctrines. But the hymns themselves defy the boundaries of creed, forming an ecumenical fellowship of words as the hymnals for these often fiercely divergent groups, with very few exceptions, share one another's songs. Hymns remind us of our common heritage as Christians — the message of Christ, regardless of disparate interpretations.

"The day I was born, my great-uncle, Bishop Hyle, was in Rome as part of the Second Vatican Council. My father's (German) mother was a third order Carmelite; my mother's mother attended Billy Sunday's camp revivals. My parents woke us with Gregorian chants on Sundays, and once drove us to New York for the day just to hear Mahalia Jackson sing gospel hymns. Priests said mass for us in our home, and sang with us around the family piano. My childhood was filled with many faiths and many voices. This book is their echo."