Sunday, August 27, 2017

From the archives: Trust and Okay (Why sing hymns?)

First posted July 2007, somewhat edited this time around.

One blog leads to another: the always-thoughtworthy Wittingshire blog 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. This is the quote from George Wiegel, at least the bit I reallly 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 JunkYard Blog commented on it, and the Deputy Headmistress picked it 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."
The congregation we've been part of for the last while was  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.

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.  I would like 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


Cindy said...

Thank you for reposting this today. I also want hymns sung at my funeral, and don't smile at this but I've also wondered if the family could afford to hire a choir who can actually sing along with the hymns, because so few people today know them!

Carol said...

Thanks for this. I only started to learn hymns as an adult & our church very rarely uses them. Liked the analogy of the windows & doors 🙂