The Song & the Songwriter: The 4th Watch of the Night by Donna Weiss

Throughout my life, I occasionally experience a pricking of my ears and an involuntary clunk in my spirit. It’s a language alert, bringing me up short with wonder. I understand that I have just encountered a signpost to some as of yet unknown treasure. The name “Applebutter Hill,” where my maternal grandmother is buried, for instance, lingered in my heart for years before it became part of my novel The Heart of Applebutter Hill.

View of Amish farmer working in Lancaster county  (PA) hay field (45 degrees from back. Farmer in straw hat with suspenders crossing his back and a little of his beard - but not his face - showing. He's driving two mules and riding in a sulky with a tetter attached to the back. The hay has already been mowed & is in straight rows from the first tetting. He's flipping it again to help it dry. In the distance is a corn field and in back left a weathered white barn. Photo by Rich Hill.
Donna’s 2nd Album “Harvest”: Cover shows Amish farmer tetting a hay field – photo by Rich Hill

As a Sunday school student at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Wilson Borough, Pennsylvania, Bible verses captured my imagination in the same way. “the Fourth watch of the Night” was one of them. Little did I know, in the basement of that old church, that someday I would use it in a song.

Where My Head was at the Time

Donna Sitting with her first guide dog Simba (a black Lab) in Great Smokies National Park: photo by Rich Hill

Donna & Simba in Great Smokies National Park.

According to my Braille lyrics, I wrote “The 4th Watch of the Night” on September 30, 1986 – a day before my second guide dog Curly Connor’s fifth birthday. I had recently moved from an apartment in Philadelphia’s Germantown section. I loved Germantown with its old Victorians and tree-lined streets, its proximity to the Wissahickon Valley branch of Fairmount Park, its natural food co-op, the stores of Maplewood Mall and the wonderful people.

Donna & Curly Connor , her second guide dog - a black Lab/Golden Retriever cross, are standing in an Oval Opening at Grey Towers National Historical Site in Milford, Pennsylvania. Photo by Rich Hill.

Donna & Curly Connor , her second guide dog, are at Grey Towers National Historical Site in Milford, Pennsylvania. Photo by Rich Hill

I was not, however, fond of the criminal element. There were six burglaries. Curly Connor – and Simba before him – and I had had several close calls. Rich wanted me to move to Montgomery county. We weren’t ready for marriage, and no bank would give a blind street singer a mortgage. Rich worked things out as usual. I bought my first home with my savings and a loan from his father.

Glenside welcomed me with open arms. I was still working as a street singer, and two nearby train stations provided access to schools in the five-county area and beyond. I had written a song about the Challenger disaster, “The Challenger’s Challenge,” and received a plaque from the Glenside Chamber of Commerce. Curly Connor and I attended St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, where I met other wonderful people. My faith journey was at an all-time high.

Some Bible Background

According to the Bible Dictionary, the Jewish people divided the night into military watches rather than hours. Initially they had only three, but after the Romans took over, it was increased to four. The 4th watch ran from 3:00am to 6:00am; in other words, really late.

Matthew 14 starts with the murder of John the Baptist. Jesus, went to the wilderness to be alone. The crowds, having heard the news, followed him. He took pity on them and healed them. He fed 5,000 with five loaves and two fishes, and they gathered up twelve baskets of left-overs. Jesus sent his disciples across the sea, staying to dismiss the crowds and pray. Meanwhile, the ship carrying his disciples was tossed about in the wind.

This is from the King James Version (KJV). Note that Peter, despite freaking out a bit, does walk on the water with Jesus.

Matt. 14:25-33. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.


words and music by Donna Weiss, 1986
Included in Harvest (copyright 1989DonnaWeiss

Here’s to the Lord’s apostles,
I love them one and all,
From Phillip and Bartholomew
To James and John and Paul,

But, of all the brave and hearty lads
that ever I hope to greet,
there’s one man I just can’t wait to meet.

Chorus: (after verses 1-3)
He was there when Jesus healed the sick,
He watched Him raise the dead,
He saw with one small basket
How the multitudes were fed,

When the storms came up and the chips were down
And his heart was filled with fright,
They went walking on the water
in the 4th watch of the night.

He was just another fisherman
From the shores of Galilee,
trying to scratch a living from
the wild and restless sea,

So, how did that rough and tumble man,
ever come to be
the saint that speaks so loud and clear to me?

Jesus called him Peter,
He was solid as a stone,
He recognized the son of God
from something he’d been shown,

But, he didn’t find out from flesh and blood,
so the devil couldn’t steal
the knowledge that the Father had revealed.

Now, the seas of this world toss me round,
It’s winds howl in my mind,
Peaceful quiet harbors
are sometimes hard to find,

But, I never get so lost out there
that I can no longer call
on the one who pledged to love me through it all.

Final Chorus:
I know He still heals the sick,
He raises up the dead,
I know with one small basket
how the multitudes are fed,

When the storms come up and the chips are down
And my heart is filled with fright,
we go walking on the water
in the 4th watch of the night.
(repeat chorus & then repeat last line)


Watches of night Definition and Meaning – Bible Dictionary

Matthew 14:25 Context

About Donna W. Hill

Donna W. Hill is a writer, speaker, animal lover and avid knitter from Pennsylvania's Endless Mountains. Her first novel, The Heart of Applebutter Hill, is an adventure-mystery with excursions into fantasy for general audiences. Professionals in the fields of education and the arts have endorsed it as a diversity, inclusion and anti-bullying resource for junior high through college. A songwriter with three albums, Hill provided educational and motivational programs in the Greater Philadelphia area for fifteen years before moving to the mountains. Her essay, "Satori Green" appears in Richard Singer's Now, Embracing the Present Moment (2010, O-Books), and her cancer-survivor story is in Dawn Colclasure’s On the Wings of Pink Angels (2012). From 2009 through 2013, Hill was an online journalist for numerous publications, covering topics ranging from nature, health care and accessibility to music, knitting and chocolate. She is an experienced talk show guest and guest blogger and presents workshops about writing and her novel for school, university, community and business groups. The Heart of Applebutter Hill is available in print and e-versions at Amazon, B&N, Apple, Sony, Smashwords, Create Space and other outlets. It is also available through Bookshare for readers with print disabilities.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christian, Donna Weiss, Faith, Guide dogs, Harvest, memoir, Pennsylvania, Song Lyrics, songwriting, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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