Today’s entry in the ongoing list in my series Then Sings My Soul: The Hymns of My Youth was only written in 1962, but “Sweet, Sweet Spirit” has become quite familiar to all, and across denominational lines. During that time, it seems to have been recorded by just about everybody of note, from Elvis to the Gaithers. Charismatics would be the hand-raisers of course… in the church of my youth we’d be doin’ none of that. ;^)
An excerpt from the book Stories Behind 50 Southern Gospel Favorites, Vol. 2 tells the story.
Doris Akers (1923-1995), was “one of ten children. She learned to play the piano by ear at age six and by age ten had composed her first song.”
[O]ne Sunday morning in 1962, while directing the Sky Pilot Choir, she said to her singers, “You are not ready to go in.” She didn’t believe they had prayed enough! They were accustomed to spending time with her in prayer before the service, asking God to bless their songs. She said, “I feel that prayer is more important than great voices.” They had already prayed, but this particular morning she asked them to pray again, and they did so with renewed fervor.
As they prayed, Doris began to wonder how she could stop this wonderful prayer meeting. She …sent word to the pastor letting him know what was happening. He was waiting in the auditorium, wanting to start the service. Finally, [she] was compelled to say to the choir, “We have to go. I hate to leave this room and I know you hate to leave, but you know we do have to go to the service. But there is such a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place.”
Doris explained… “Songwriters always have their ears open to a song. The song started ‘singing’ to me. I wanted to write it down but couldn’t. I thought the song would be gone after the service. Following the dismissal, I went home. The next morning, to my surprise, I heard the song again, so I went to the piano and began to put it all down.” She had been given the now-famous “Sweet, Sweet Spirit.”
In her song she recognized the “Spirit in this place,” as the “Spirit of the Lord.” She could see in the “sweet expressions” of the choir members that they also recognized the “presence of the Lord.” In the chorus of the song, she calls us to the New Testament where the Spirit of God descended like a dove, lighting upon Jesus at His baptism (Matthew 3:16). She calls Him “sweet heavenly Dove,” asking Him to stay right there with them, filling them with His love.
The song is a tender one, and you can imagine the atmosphere of which it speaks. Of course, I’ve been in that atmosphere in prayer times past, before and during services. That would all have been foreign to me during the times in my youth when we sang it, and when I hear it now it still takes me back to some youth group meeting or other.
Sweet, Sweet Spirit
There’s a sweet sweet spirit in this place
And I know that it’s the spirit of the Lord
There are sweet expressions on each face
And I know that it’s the presence of the Lord
Sweet Holy Spirit
Sweet Heavenly Dove
Stay right here with us
Filling us with your love
And for these blessings
We lift our hearts in praise (hearts in praise)
Without a doubt we’ll know that we have been revived
When we shall leave this place