Chaplain’s Corner: CLXXXI

“God is Nigh”


During the summer of 1862 while the Civil War was raging in the North and South, Union General Daniel Butterfield was searching for a new way to signal “lights out” at the end of the day. Butterfield wrote a simple tune that his bugler, Oliver Wilcox Norton, first performed at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia.

A few months later, a highly regarded member of the Union battery was killed in action.  It was a tradition at the time to fire three volleys after a soldier’s burial.  But the unit occupied an advanced position and it was determined that gunfire might compromise their security. Someone suggested that Butterfield’s new bugle call be played instead.

Traditionally, the call to “extinguish lights” always ended with three beats of a drum–the so-called “drum taps” or simply “taps.” By the end of the nineteenth century, the drumbeats had been replaced with the bugle call and the name “taps” was passed along as well.  For more than a century and a half Taps has been sounded at the burial of American Veterans. And here are the three verses originally penned to accompany those 24 lyrical notes:

“Day is done, gone the sun

From the lakes, from the hills, from the skies.

All is well, safely rest
God is nigh.
Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky gleaming bright
From afar, drawing near
Falls the night.
Thanks and praise for our days
Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky

As we go, this we know

God is nigh.”

Whenever you hear Taps at a burial, at a time of incalculable loss, may the meaning of those last three notes endure.  God is not somewhere else, taking care of some faraway galaxy or managing international trade talks. God is here.  God is nearby.  God is nigh.

Ron Naylor, Chaplain