And If You Seek My Sin

In May 2021, I presented a Sunday hymn from the German hymnal Gotteslob in its 2013 edition for Pray Tell. The Gotteslob also provides interesting new material for Lent. In my eyes, the hymn Und suchst du meine Sünde is one of the most inspiring pieces in this area. This three-stanza song is based on a poem by Schalom Ben-Chorin (1913—1999), one of the most important figures in the Christian-Jewish dialogue in Germany after the Shoah.

The text is highly philosophical-theological-poetic, very condensed, elliptic, almost enigmatic, with a fine rhythm of long and short, stressed and unstressed German syllables. Hence a translation is not easy without losing too much of the original, but at least I want to try to translate the general meaning of the sentences into English:

Und suchst du meine Sünde,
flieh ich von dir zu dir,
Ursprung, in den ich münde,
du fern und nah bei mir.

Wie ich mich wend und drehe,
geh ich von dir zu dir,
die Ferne und die Nähe
sind aufgelöset hier.

Von dir zu dir mein Schreiten,
mein Weg und meine Ruh,
Gericht und Gnad, die beiden,
bist du und immer du.

And if you seek my sin,
I flee from you to you,
source into which I flow,
you far and near to me.

How I twist and turn,
I go from you to you,
the distance and the near
are here resolved.

From you to you my step,
my path and my rest,
both judgment and grace
are you and always you.

Christian Dostal, church musician from Regensburg, composed the melody with clearly recognizable allusions to typical keys of Jewish music. The Protestant (Lutheran) Evangelisches Gesangbuch had introduced the same hymn in 1993 with a different melody by Kurt Bossler. The Dostal version is probably the most complex melody in the entire Gotteslob, and that might be one of the reasons why I have never yet heard Und suchst du meine Sünde sung in a Catholic parish liturgy. I can hardly imagine normal parishioners singing it a cappella, for even skilled singers have issues sight-reading. Introducing this hymn will only succeed with an experience organist or other instrumentalists and leading singers. But it would be worth it!

Several musicians have uploaded versions of this hymn on YouTube, and it is interesting to see how different the hymn comes across depending on the interpretation. Here are some examples, some of which are very short and only contain one stanza:

One comment

  1. It would be helpful to add the hymn number to the post for those of us with copies of Gotteslob to hand: 274.

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