Based on Psalm 42, the hymn “As Pants the Hart for Cooing Streams” struck me as a bit strange when I was a young boy. I didn’t know that the hart was a deer. It seemed to me that with the addition of one vowel “e” one would have “heart.” It turns out my childhood thinking was on the mark. As a hart pants for a stream of cool running water, so does my heart pants for the refreshing ever flowing stream of God’s grace filled faithfulness toward me.
The 17th century hymn by Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady provides the image of a hart (heart) who is being chased by relentless a pack of dogs or wolves or human hunters.
As pants the hart for cooling streams
When heated in the chase,
So longs my soul, O God, for you
And your refreshing grace.
One version of the hymn contains the striking image of a gathering storm of troubles which will pour down upon the individual, turning those quiet streams into a sea of water threatening to drown the one being chased.
One trouble calls another on
And gathers overhead,
Falls splashing down, till round my soul
A rising sea is spread.
However, though the person is near drowning, he/she will not despair of the steadfast love of the Lord.
Why restless, why cast down, my soul?
Hope still, and you shall sing
The praise of him who is your God,
Your health’s eternal spring.