Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"I Want A Sober Mind"

Last Sunday we sang two relatively unfamiliar hymns. We sang The Royal Banners Forward Go and I'll Praise My Maker While I've Breath. The first is a grand Anglican processional hymn based on a late Latin poem. The second is a Watts / Wesley metrical version of Psalm 146.

I had lunch with some regular worshippers and I asked them which of the two they liked better. They both preferred the latter. I was intrigued, because the lyrics of the second are stiffer and more, well, Protestant. At the same they are more direct, more personal, and more intense. The whole hymn is an "I" statement, after all.

I think that's the appeal of lot of the best gospel songs, and of those older hymns of Wesley, Watts, Doddridge, and all. How they speak for the "I" of the singer and of our close experience. Their poetry is often less exalted then some other more lofty hymns, but as Erik Routley used to say, the poetry of hymns should not be overdone, and is often best understated. That doesn't mean the poetry shouldn't be excellent. It's very difficult to make poetry that's both good and understated.

I heard a really good example this the other week when the Dessoff Choirs were singing at Old First. They sang one of my favorite Sacred Harp numbers. The music is great to begin with. With it's fuguing chorus it's slow -fast, like a Hungarian csardas. But the lyrics are what really struck me. Note how forceful and direct they are:

I want a sober mind,
An all sustaining eye,
To see my God above,
And to the heavens fly.

I'd soar away above the sky,
I'd fly, and fly,
To see my God above,
I'd fly to see my God above.

I want a Godly fear,
A quick discerning eye,
That looks to Thee, my God
And sees the tempter fly.


1 comment:

nittenaway said...

Someone asked me what I most missed, IF I missed anythin, from my previous pastorates. Without skipping a beat, I said, "the music." The older I get, the more I need good hymns -- different kinds, but still, good hymns. Thanks for your good words.