Psalm 38 is one of the traditional penitential psalms (along with 6, 32, 51, 102, 130, and 143). Though the occasion is unknown, the author of Psalm 38 recognizes in a debilitating illness the chastising hand of God for some sin (st. 1). The prayer moves from humble confessions of guilt (st. 1, 2, 5) to a lament over the illness that repels friends and attracts enemies (st. 2-4). Utterly weak and in pain, the psalmist waits on the LORD for help, renews the lament and confession of sin (st. 5), and prays for God to "come quickly" and "help" (st. 6). Helen Otte wrote this versification in 1985 for the 1987 Psalter Hymnal.
CHICKAHOMINY is a stirring tune that fits well with this text. The tune is marked by well-placed descending and ascending melodic figures; the final phrase was rhythmically simplified. Although part singing is possible on the middle stanzas, try having the group or congregation sing in unison throughout (but especially on st. 1 and 4). The hymn needs forceful accompaniment and surely requires a raised third on the final chord of stanza 4!
Helen Ann (Brink) Otte Walter (b. Grand Rapids, MI, 1931) versified this psalm in 1982 for the Psalter Hymnal. She received her education at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and has worked as a teacher, proofreader, and librarian. She was a member of the Poets' Workshop that worked with the revision committee to prepare psalm versifications for the 1987 Psalter Hymnal. After her first husband died and she remarried, she remained active as a freelance writer, especially of children's stories and dramas, some of which have been published in Reformed Worship under the name Helen Walter.
Henry Bryon Hays O.S.B. (b. Clarksville, TN, 1920) composed CHICKAHOMINY, which was published in his collection of hymn tunes, Swayed Pines Song Book (1981). Hays was raised in the Protestant tradition but since the 1950s has been a Benedictine monk at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. A Civil War devotee, he has derived his hymn tune titles from names of battles or places associated with that war.