Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Trust and Okay

One blog leads to another: the always-thoughtworthy Wittingshire posted a quote from George Wiegel, and Wittingshire was linked to by The Paragraph Farmer, which I got to by following the Deputy Headmistress's Sunday Hymn Post. Okay, those are the credits: this is the bit of the quote I liked:

"A thoroughly secularized world is a world without windows, doors, or skylights: a claustrophobic, ultimately suffocating world."

Imagine never hearing the soaring words of Holy, Holy, Holy--Reginald Heber's words, or Nolene Prince's chorus from Isaiah 6:3, I don't care which--I always hear both of them flying out the windows, through the skylights, up past our small selves here. It's the poetry of the words as well as their literal meaning that opens those windows, though. Otherwise we might as well just have "What a mighty God we serve, what a mighty God we serve." Not the same at all.

Again from one blog to another: Lawrence Henry wrote this in the American Spectator, the JunkYardBlog commented on it, and the Deputy Headmistress picked that up as well.

"IT IS AN INTERESTING PARADOX. Churches devoted to rigorous, difficult theology -- real Christianity, in short -- have largely adopted praise music, mainly to get people in the doors. In doing so, they have denied their parishioners an intimate connection with the art, the music, the poetry, and the history of the faith of our fathers, embodied in hymns.

"Mainstream churches, which have left Christianity behind for liberation theology, "peace and justice" theory, deconstruction, and modernism, still cling to the hymnbook, to the hard work of teaching choirs to sing in harmony, and to the expense of maintaining pipe organs.

"If only they took as good care of the faith."

I won't get into the issue of who's practicing "real Christianity." But I do know exactly what they're talking about. Church-wise and music-wise, I have been almost everywhere. I grew up in the most mainstream of mainstream, heavy on Isaac Watts and the Wesleys, with a midweek helping of holy roller on the side. Since we've been married our places of worship have varied from strictly-pipe-organ (did you know Lutheran hymns are older and harder than "the norm?") to have-to-audition praise team.

The congregation we've been part of for the last while was actually formed partly out of this same question of worship style and content: those who rebelled against "My All in All"/overheads/praise bands, among other things. Since we meet in a rented assembly room, singing is accompanied by a piano and led by a song leader (there isn't usually a choir). Ironically, "My All in All" is included in the hymnal they chose; I think we sang it a couple of weeks ago. That hymnal is full of other little surprises, too: every so often I get hit with a chorus I haven't sung since the '80's and never really wanted to hear again. But generally we're on the same track: the hymns we sing at home often get sung at church as well.

Occasionally I've thought that I should make a list of my favourite hymns. Just in case, you know? But I think the list would be too long--so almost anything in The Mennonite Hymnal would be fine, with a couple of exceptions. With apologies to The DHM, I'd have to request that if this particular squirrel ever goes paws-up, the rest of the fur-bearers would please refrain from singing Be Still My Soul. I like Sibelius and I used to like that hymn until they started using it at every single funeral. Blech. Every time I sing it now I get depressed.

But I have one more thing to throw in here about hymns, in case you think I've gone too far off the original point. And it has a lot to do with that last paragraph: I wasn't kidding about wanting hymns--real hymns--at my funeral, whenever I eventually get to shed this mortal coil. I don't care if every person there has to stumble through the words and doesn't know the music, I want some songs with meat on them. How can you get through any kind of a crisis without knowing that "on Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand?" This is something we've lost as a culture, especially during the worst times: being able to cling not only to the words of Scripture we know, but the poetry of the Psalms and hymns that has been written over and over on our hearts. How many families are there who hang up the phone after good or bad news and reach for the hymn book? Crayons once goofted on the name of the hymn "Trust and Obey." She called it "Trust and Okay," but I think that's closer to the truth of what I'm saying.

When I sing, "With ever joyful hearts, and blessed peace to cheer us," I think of the pastor who wrote those words during a plague. When I hear about "sorrow and love flow mingled down," I know something of Christ's love for us during our worst times. When I hear some of the "get people in the doors" stuff--I don't hear anything. It's not that older hymns are just macaroni and cheese to me, a matter of emotion and familiarity and comfort; it's not just style and taste. It's what they are filled with that goes flying away from me myself, past what I know, to something bigger than I am.

God is here within us,
Soul, in silence fear Him,
Humbly, fervently draw near Him.
Now His own
Who have known
God, in worship lowly,
Yield their spirits wholly.
--Gerhard Tersteegen, 1729

4 comments:

SongBirdy said...

This was beautifully written and I enjoyed the thought. I'll have to give some time for my response to form coherently.

~*~ Jennifer ~*~ said...

I LOVE hymns... I have even bought my own hymnal to have in our living room -- Ü

I call myself a nerd... but I LOVE hymns.

Tim's Mom said...

You've been chosen for a Thinking Blogger Award. Go here:
http://rusticanda.blogspot.com/2007/07/thinking-blog-award.html

Patrick O'Hannigan said...

I love Wittingshire and would recommend that blog to any thoughtful person, but as you might also have noticed, I've added my own thoughts on Christian hymnody to the discussion that Lawrence Henry wrote about in American Spectator Online. I'm a bit of a traditionalist

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