Monday, 8 March 2010

Humming the worst of hymns

Heavens, do I have major intellectual and aesthetic pollution today... because I have a variety of utterly dreadful songs (somehow, just to give them the distinction of 'hymn' seems blasphemous) in my mind as a result of an unfortunate accident. I was at a library this week, doing some research about religious themes as depicted in contemporary literature, and one book was about how nuns have been presented (not only in literary treatment per se, but in the ridiculous pictures we used to see in magazines of the 1950s-60s, where it seemed all nuns were perpetually giggling and eating the poor man's version of Knickerbocker Glory - in the days when nuns hoped for more modern knickers and had a totally distorted version of glory.)

One illustration in the book was of a record album cover, featuring Medical Mission Sisters. (I'd heard the blasted tunes many times, having had the bad fortune to have a stint teaching little children. Maybe only those in convent life had full exposure to this rot, as I sincerely hope.) I'd had no idea that the songs were produced by a religious community, but just seeing the titles brought back memories of dreadful liturgies, back when 'making the children think it was their liturgy' was all the rage.

Some of you are young, many lifelong Anglicans, so I may not receive sufficient sympathy... but what other 'ancients' here remember such gems as these? (I'd forgotten them for forty years...)

"Spirit of God in the clear running water,
Flowing to greatness the trees on the hill.
Spirit of God in the finger of morning,
Fill the earth, bring it to birth, and blow where you will.
Blow, blow, blow till I be but breath of the Spirit blowing in me."

Or how about this one?

"It's a long road to freedom,
Winding, steep and high,
But if you walk in love with the wind on your wings,
And cover the earth with the songs you sing,
The miles fly by.

I walked one morning by the sea,
And all the waves reached out to me,
I took their tears, then let them be."

There also was the unforgettable "Joy is Like the Rain," not to be confused with the Gregory Norbet "masterpiece" by the same title:

"I see raindrops on my window,
Joy is like the rain..."

I couldn't figure out if the original authors of these gems were aged 5 or merely hadn't taken their bipolar medication.

Remember "Hear, O Lord"? I suppose I just am uncomfortable with misplaced modifiers, but take a good look at these lyrics:
"every night, before I sleep, I pray my soul to take - or else I pray that loneliness is gone when I awake."
Loneliness may be hard to take, but it does seem a strange prayer: "kill me tonight if I'll be lonely tomorrow."

I have no idea why - maybe that record album cover contained this gem, though I'm uncertain. But at least I think it has been some time since anyone was subjected to:

"I cannot come! Aside: today kids would think it was a reference to orgasm.
I cannot come to the banquet,
Don't bother me now,
I've married a wife,
I've bought me a cow,
And I have fields and commitments
That cost a pretty sum
Please hold me excused
I cannot come."

That's on my mind today... a pathetic situation. Oddly enough, I think I only actually heard that song performed (at a youth mass, of course) once, many years ago. Whichever music is worst tends to be that which most enduringly affects some part of one's brain in which it becomes an enduring memory.

As an aside, I shall admit that there are some musically dreadful songs for which I either have some affection or which I consented to play at liturgies now and then, because they brought back memories or were cherished by many people. A few years ago, there was an Internet poll where Roman Catholics were invited to share the 'what and why' of their very favourite hymns. I was expecting either the great or the sentimental, yet the winner was "Be Not Afraid." The comments section showed that the reason it was first on the list was that people remembered it from "Dead Man Walking."

I love Gregory Peck and A. J. Cronin, and shall confess that, when I watched a video of "Keys of the Kingdom" (and this though the film in no way does the book justice), when the children sang "Come, Holy Ghost" because it was main character Father Chisholm's favourite hymn, I had that in my mind for days. And I'll be hopeless for at least another week, because, having recently read Eamon Duffy's excellent Faith of our Fathers, I was reminded - all too well - of how, in childhood, about the only hymns we sang in church were in honour of either Mary or the Sacred Heart. I found I was humming, "Mother of Christ, O Star of the Sea, pray for the wanderer, pray for me" when I was polishing the furniture today. (Exactly what I was humming or thinking of that led me to place the iron in the fridge is beyond me. It's only striking me now that I'd best go off and find whatever it is that I put where the iron is supposed to be...)

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