Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Old Words...Deep Words

Who writes this stuff anymore? I mean seriously. It seems we can't attend a church service anymore without leaving with a truckload of ideas to ponder and meditate on. It's almost if church should have been like this all along. Not to suggest that we've "discovered" a perfect church, for no such entity exists. However, our present experience is more closely approximating worship expectations we have had for some time now. Such expectations may have seemed unreasonable before, but now they seem appropriately intuitive.

For example, one of the hymns this week (I know. I know. I commented on the hymn last week too. Bear with me) fit so incredibly well with the current state of the United States of America. I was stuck by the timeliness of the poetry, though the hymn itself had obviously been written long ago. It went as follows:

O God of earth and altar. Bow down and hear our cry,
Our earthly rulers falter, Our people drift and die;

The walls of gold entomb us, The swords of scorn divide,

Take not thy thunder from us, But take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches, From lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches That comfort cruel men,

From sale and profanation Of honor, and the sword,

From sleep and from damnation, Deliver us, good Lord!

Tie in a living tether The prince and priest and thrall,
Bind all our lives together, Smite us and save us all:
In ire and exultation Aflame with faith, and free,

Lift up a living nation, A single sword to thee. Amen.

Wow! No that was a "prayer for the nation" that one can sink their teeth into. Such lyrics maintain the ancient and obligatory critique of one's country that prophetic voices of faith have a continual duty to sound. Because of my political bent, I found verse 2 particularly appropriate, yet the entire hymn was timely and applicable to the cultural ills of American society.

I am not the type of staunch traditionalist that would hold to only older music forms to the exclusion of all others. There seems, in my opinion, a place for both ancient AND timely expressions of aesthetic worship in the Church. Having said that though, I find it very, very rare for the contemporary lyricist to possess the poetic capacity found in older hymnody. If it's worth using in the service to give people the impression of worship, it's worth giving them a lasting impression after they've left the service. Thus I'm still reflecting on the song days later.

I've often said that although I do not begrudge Christians the use of contemporary music in worship, I prefer lyrics that I can read in prose with a straight face. While one might speak the poetry of "O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer's praise," uttering lyrics such as "Yes Lord. Yes Lord, Yes, yes Lord!" appear better reserved for the enrapturing throws of sex. Therefore, let us continue to sing with our hearts that which can equally keep our minds occupied for a while too. Use what music style you want. I cannot be credibly dogmatic on that subject, but let the older words - the deeper words - be the poetry that the music ushers into the soul to churn and gestate into new spiritual life with each Sunday encounter.


ginni said...

It's interesting that you used the song "Trading My Sorrows" as an example of "new words" when most of that song comes directly from the Bible (2 Corinthians 4:9, Psalm 30:5). As for the "yes, Lord, yes, Lord, yes, yes, Lord, amen" reminding you of the "enrapturing throes of sex," I can only say that if one of God's most wonderful creations (sex) can reduce us to near speechlessness, how much more should the Creator Himself?

Anonymous said...

Eric says, "Huzzah!"

Anonymous said...

Aaron, I couldn't agree with you more (and I honestly don't I ever have!)

While I have no problem with contemporary musical worship, your litmus test of being able to read the lyrics with a straight face is excellent.

You have to question the quality of a genre that has four lines that repeats for five minutes.