Monday, March 15, 2010

Misguided hymns

I have long thought that a good topic for an adult Sunday school class session might be "criticisms of hymns." Even ignoring the major opportunities presented by the atrocities in which good original poetry has been replaced by bad poetry, or even by total nonsense, in the effort to avoid referring to God as "he" or "him," there are plentiful examples.

My example today will be hymn number 44 in the Congregational New Century Hymnal, "Beautiful Jesus." This piece is also sometimes called "Fairest Lord Jesus" or "Beautiful Savior." Where I think it leaves the rails is in the fourth and final verse:

"All earthly beauty, all celestial radiance, fade when compared to Jesus' face.
Let me not cherish beauties that perish; let me this lovely good embrace."

While I have no quarrel with the first line here, I must strenuously object when the author proclaims "Let me not cherish beauties that perish." Whether we are thinking of beautiful flowers, or of those near and dear to us that we consider beautiful, we know full well that these beauties will not last forever. We are morbidly aware of this fact. All too aware! But that does mean we do not cherish theses beauties; indeed it might lead us to cherish them all the more because we know that nothing is forever but, here and now, there they are!

I cannot sing these words without having such a violent emotional reaction---a combination of a sadness at the mortality of those I love plus irritation at finding such a misguided sentiment in a hymn--- that my eyes water up and I cannot see the music or the words.

It may not be fashionable to criticize hymns since they are meant well and written by very nice people and selected for use in a service by other very nice and well-intentioned people. However someone needs to do it, and I guess I am one such someone.

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