Here I Am Lord – Dan Schutte (1947—current)
Love it or hate it, most Catholics could probably sing “Here I Am, Lord” from memory after hearing it so many times.
Dan Schutte, the song’s composer, never imagined the song would become so popular.
Mr. Schutte was a 31-year-old Jesuit studying theology in Berkeley, Calif., when one of his friends asked him to write a song for an upcoming diaconate ordination Mass.
“I sort of had to catch my breath, because he was knocking on my door on Wednesday and I knew the ordination was on Saturday,” Mr. Schutte, who has since left the Jesuits, told America.
His friend wanted the song to include the images of the word of God, the light of Christ and the bread and wine—images that would eventually appear at the ends of the verses: “Who will bear my light to them?” “Who will speak my word to them?”
At the time, Mr. Schutte had no idea how to work the images into the song. He recalled thinking, “Gosh, I don’t know what to do with that.”
On top of the short notice, Mr. Schutte had been suffering from the flu for several days. He sat at his desk with his guitar and a blank sheet of staff paper in front of him, praying, “God, if I’m going to do this for my friend, you’re going to have to help me.”
Mr. Schutte said he often uses Scripture as the basis of his songs, so as he thought about the idea of vocation for the ordination Mass, he turned to the stories of the prophets, like Jeremiah, who asked God to give him the right words to say.
“In all those stories, all of those people God was calling to be prophets have expressed in one way or another their humanness or their self-doubt,” Mr. Schutte said.
That, combined with feedback from the other St. Louis Jesuits—a group of young Jesuit songwriters who popularized folk-influenced liturgical music in the 1970s—was why Mr. Schutte changed the lyrics from a confident “Here I am, Lord; here I stand, Lord” to the self-doubting final version: “Here I am, Lord; is it I, Lord?”
Mr. Schutte sketched out “Here I Am, Lord” over the course of two days. On Friday evening, he walked to his friend’s house to deliver the song, pencil in hand, scribbling edits along the way.
“At that point,” he told me, “I really had no sense that the song would be any good, and I was actually very nervous.”
Mr. Schutte said he does not remember much from the diaconate ordination, except that people seemed to relate to the song.
“I couldn’t figure it out,” Mr. Schutte said. “If only they knew the story of the last two days of my life trying to make this work!”
Mr. Schutte says he has not received much negative feedback for the song. “I have other pieces they do that for!” Mr. Schutte laughed. He composed a number of other popular Catholic songs, including “City of God,” “Only This I Want,” “Blest Be the Lord” and “Though the Mountains May Fall.”
Mr. Schutte said the positive reception of “Here I Am, Lord” has continued consistently since the song’s premiere in 1979 and its publication in 1981.