Thursday, November 23, 2023

Tacky Hymns 108

We resume with the "Pentecost, Holy Spirit" section of the Lutheran hymnal supplement All Creation Sings ...

940 is "Come, Holy Spirit" from the Iona Community. Sort of like Taizé, I guess. This very brief duet – the sort of canon that's easy to write because only one vocal line moves at a time – repeats the first line a couple times, then throws in the lyrics "Maranatha! Come, Lord, come." And that's it. It could, however, be extended indefinitely by the repeat sign at the end, suggesting a self-hypnotic kind of group meditation. I don't know what Lutherans are thinking, putting a song like this in their hymnal rack, but it isn't the same thought that prompted the first Lutherans to write vernacular hymns for the conregation to sing. For omitting the accompaniment and not being a hymn, 2 tacks.

941 is "Breathe on us, Breath of God" by Patrick G. Michaels (b. 1954). The second line is "Breath of God, breathe on us," and that's literally the whole thing. It would be kind of an anticlimax after the kind of lengthy introduction some organists are apt to use, building up to a hymn. For not belonging in the hymn section, 1 tack.

942 is "Ev'ry time I feel the spirit" (lowercase s), an African-American spiritual with its melody, PENTECOST, arranged by Melva W. Costen (b. 1933). Harmony is provided for the refrain but not for the verse. This and the rhythmic stylings suggest more of a choir number with a soloist singing the verses, than an actual hymn for the average congregation. Also, how the lyrics apply to the faithful escapes me; I have doubts about whether there's any interpretation of these words that make sense in the context of biblical and orthodox Lutheranism. 3 tacks.

943 is "As the wind song" (through the trees) by Shirley Erena Murray (†2020), with the tune WAIRUA TAPU by Lim Swee Hong (b. 1963), accompaniment omitted. The hymn's two long stanzas are a series of analogies leading to the repeated conclusion, "So it is with the Spirit of God". A couple brief, faint flashes of biblical truth glimmer among these vague motes of figurative language, such as "Never seen, never known where this wind has blown, bringing life, bringing pow'r to the world" in stanza 1, and "Making worlds that are new, making peace come true, bringing gifts, bringing love to the world" in stanza 2. But it holds back from getting any more specifically Christian than this. No mention of Christ or the gospel or the Spirit's place in the Trinitarian economy or the means of grace, we might as well be singing "Kum ba yah" in the smoke of a campfire. 2 tacks.

944 is "O Spirit all-embracing" by Delores Dufner, set to Gustav Holst's THAXTED, a tune on whose tackiness in the church context I have commented multiple times before. I'll spare you the repetition. Dufner's hymn, as so often in this hymnal, stands head and shoulders above the others in its section to the shame and disgrace of Lutheran hymn-writers, if any indeed are here. While it doesn't relate the Holy Spirit to the other Persons of the Trinity or His operation to the means of grace, this hymn definitely does a fine job of setting down what works of the Spirit the faithful rely on and pray for. Nevertheless, because there's still room for improvement, because the accompaniment is hidden and, by golly, because of Jupiter, Bringer of Jollity, 3 tacks.

945 is "When you send forth your Spirit" by Ray Makeever (b. 1943). His tune is titled PSALM 104. Maybe it's catchy. Or maybe it has a level of rhythmic trickiness that prices it right out of the average congregation's musical wallet. The refrain is notated for "All" and the four stanzas for "Leader or All," which suggests a certain recognition that this isn't altogether an all-together thing. The accompaniment is omitted, which is particularly irksome because of the one-bar vocal tacet at the end of each phrase, suggesting an instrumental cue that might be helpful for the singer. The text, however, actually seems to be a decent psalm paraphrase, though the refrain is the only place the Spirit is mentioned, suggesting that it doesn't really belong in this section; it isn't, after all, a hymn to or about the Holy Spirit. On musical grounds, 2 tacks.

The "Holy Trinity" section begins with 946, "The play of the Godhead" by Mary Louise Bringle, set to PERICHORESIS by William P. Rowan (b. 1951). For once the music is innocent of any cause of tackiness. However, Bringle's poetic treatment of the Trinity verges on the bizarre, depicting the "dance" of the Persons as a "sacred romance," replacing the gendered name Father with Creator (maybe to fit the meter?) – though I tend to try to attribute the title "God the Creator" to the undivided Trinity – and, again, depicting the Trinitarian economy as "a web daily spun in spangles of mystery," when to my thinking spangles are the last thing a mystery would have anything to do with. That's just stanza 1. Stanza 2 compares the mystery of the Trinity to the states of matter and the life stages of a tree – analogies that are, to say the least, susceptible to interpretation as the Trinitarian heresies of modalism and partialism. Stanza 3 relates the Trinity to mankind, made in "God's gracious image of coequal parts," also hinting at a jigger of partialism in Bringel's theological cocktail. She also puts some emphasis on mankind's dance being "in tune with the music of all living things," which sounds more like a pagan religion than the revealed Christian faith, unless my senses are being clouded by the massive swarm of tacks hovering around this hymn. In the spirit of recognizing multiple persons as one being, I'll be kind and cap my rating of this (and, for this book any) hymn at 5 tacks.

947 is "Source and Sov'reign, Rock and Cloud" by Thomas H. Troeger (cf. 920), set to Joseph Parry's (†1903) tune ABYERYSTWYTH, the tune LSB pairs with "Savior, when in dust to Thee." The hymn's three stanzas are a catalog of divine names, with a refrain that sweeps them aside, calling on the church to recall "that no single holy name but the truth behind them all is the God whom we proclaim." Though I've fallen prey to the same versifying mistake myself, in one or more of my own hymns, it pains me to point out that Troeger's rhyme scheme changes after Stanza 1. Or maybe a helpful hymnal editor tampered with his text; I don't know. For only touching on and not really exploring the impressive names of God (and, particularly, of Jesus), 1 tack.

948 is "Womb of life and source of being" by Ruth Duck (cf. 922), set to RAQUÉL by Skinner Chávez-Melo (†1992), accompaniment omitted. Based on the melody alone, I feel it's a tricky enough tune that some people might want to play through it to prepare for singing it, and it's a pity that they'd have to invest in an expensive supporting book to do so. One of the reasons I persist in sticking tacks in this book for omitting accompaniments is, frankly, to stick it to the publisher for giving off such an odor of cynical greed. For what it would cost them to include the harmony/accompaniment for every hymn, what would they lose? Space to afflict the church with more tacky hymns that nobody asked for, maybe? All that before we get to the lyrics, which, to start, feminize God from the first word. It goes on to depict our relationship with Him(?) as being held in mother's arms, gathering at the table to share "stories, tears and laughter" and be "nurtured by your care." See how misgendering God instantly pulls focus off salvation from sin and the sacrament's sharing in Jesus' atoning death. Stanza 2 on Jesus is all right (it doesn't try to misgender him), though it touches but lightly on atonement. Stanza 3's language of "Brooding Spirit" suggests again a mothering, or midwifing, angle for viewing the Holy Spirit's work, not so much to create us, birth us or transform us as children of God but to work alongside us, remind us, toward "birthing of the new world yet to be" – with enough ambiguity to make it conceivable that we're working toward that goal in the present realm. Stanza 4 doubles down on the blasphemy with a doxology to "Mother, Brother, holy Partner" before it finally says "Father, Spirit, Only Son," by which point the glob of spit has already left my mouth and my rating has maxed out again at 5 tacks.

Another section is about to begin, but I'm ready to stop for today before two of these last three hymns obliterate my resolve, kept so far, to be fair and reasonable in this review. Nevertheless, today's butcher bill stands at 24 tacks, a pretty serious count considering we only covered nine hymns. Cumulatively, that brings us to 80 tacks in 48 hymns, a tackiness quotient of about 167%. In perspective, that's enough tackiness to saturate one-and-two-thirds hymnbooks, suggesting that we think of this book as a tackiness superspreader, with bad taste in the context of Lutheran worship dripping off it like an infectious ooze. But hey, we've still got a lot of book to go. Maybe it'll clean up its act, right?

No comments: