Sunday, July 01, 2007

I Love To See The Lord Below

The DHM has linked to a couple of articles on praise music v. hymns at the bottom of her Sunday Hymn Post this morning, and I really do appreciate those articles. We are hymn-only, no-instruments-in-church type folks, and I truly appreciate the attempts of folks outside our tradition to nail down what is irksome about praise music. It does not come across our radar enough for us to say.

Patrick O'Hannigan at The Paragraph Farmer presents a Catholic's point of view on this kind of music. When I came to his take on how praise music came to be, I knew I had to blog about it:

They simply wanted to "reach people where they're at," and figured that grand old hymns had to go, if for no other reason than that they harkened back to the days of what singer/songwriter John Prine called "stained glass in every window, [and] hearing aids in every pew."

I wish some church music ministers had been at the church meeting we attended this weekend. Although not large by mainstream Christian standards (I'm guessing around 250-300 people attended), there were folks with wheelchairs and hearing aids, yes-- but there were also couples with infants; mothers toting toddlers; schoolchildren with their parents, grandparents, cousins and friends; teenagers congregating in various pews; and even young unmarried adults-- some, college students, others young working folks.

And they were singing loud. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't shouting or poor quality noise. It was a unified swell of song that rung to the ceiling and out through the cracks in the doors. And I am not talking about a few strategically placed well-trained singers. Even the little children and old folks were getting after it. These folks are trained, all right-- in a strong congregational hymnsinging tradition that has not been altered for centuries. This is an environment where you can really get into the spirit and sing out, and you don't need to worry about dwarfing another part, or embarrassing yourself with a missed note. There was no quenching of the spirit in this congregation.

And let this feeble body fail,
And let it faint and die
My soul shall quit this mournful vale

And soar to worlds on high

Shall join the disembodied saints
And find its long-sought rest
That only bliss for which it pants
In the Redeemer's breast.

And I'll sing hallelujah!
And you'll sing hallelujah!
And we'll all sing hallelujah!
When we arrive at home!

I just cannot quantify and classify the experience of sitting in a churchhouse with hundreds of likeminded people who all know the same hymns in four-part harmony and join their hearts in worship to the true and living God. Glorious. And the sound system was only used for the preaching. If they had had mikes on the congregational singing, the roof would probably have caved in.

I have friends who think we are odd for going to so many church meetings. After all, there is no nursery, no children's church, no Veggie Tales. The kids sit with us during each service, or else sit with their friends (in a nearby pew, within thumping distance, you understand), or with other older members they have become attached to (sometimes relatives, sometimes not). We attend three church services per day at these meetings (except the first night and on Sunday), and the sermons are an hour long (longer if there are two preachers).

All I can say is come and see. There is a spiritual quality to the worship and a love in the fellowship that cannot be explained in conversation, or even a blog post. Powerful. Even the children drink it in, though they may not understand every word. We could not stay for the evening service last night, and our girls were disappointed. Despite long hours of sitting still and paying attention, they enjoy these meetings.

I love to see the Lord below
His church displays Hi Grace;
But upper worlds His glory know,
And view Him face to face.

I love to worship at His feet,
Though sin annoy me there;
But saints exalted near His feet
Have no assaults to fear.

I love to meet Him in His courts,
And taste His heavenly love;
But still His visits seem too short,
Or I too soon remove.

O Lord, I love Thy service now;
Thy church displays Thy power;
But soon in heaven I'll to Thee bow,
And praise Thee evermore.


Headmistress, zookeeper said...

Oh, I'm glad you found Patrick's article. I accidentally linked to JYD twice, and one of those links was meant to be to Patrick's incredible article.
It takes a long time, but I found the comments section in response to the articles Patrick linked to be well worth my time.

My family once visited a congregation (acapella singing) that was discussing choosing new hymnals. The preacher, who was reaching out to youth in the community, was really pushing a new version with many more praise songs. We knew him, and liked him personally, but when he stood up from the pulpit and said that the church needed those new hymns because teens couldn't understand the old ones- COULD NOT- he lost my girls' ears forever. They felt insulted and demeaned.

He got his way, and they got the new hymn books that were supposed to be so important to keeping the hearts and minds of those teens. And I recently attended a Bible camp with those teens, and their hearts and minds are clearly elsewhere. Anytime there was singing (from the 'new' hymnals), they were elsewhere, decidedly UNinterested in spiritual things.

Appeals to the flesh attract the flesh and I don't know why this surprises us.

Mother Auma said...

It is my personal experience that children can and do connect with these beautiful songs. I was able to as a child and teen, and I have seen many other children and teens moved by hymns.

Sometimes in a dark hour, an deep old hymn is the only thing that helps you remember the Lord.

Javamom said...

My teens appreciate the hymns better in part because we attend a congregation that blends both. The church does this not to appeal to any one people group, but to glorify the Lord by and for whom they were written. It's been a very healthy balance for us and our family.

We have to remember not to be to proud of our own beautiful singing. I remember being upset many times that Everyone (in my growing up years) was so proud about our fantastic harmonies, but rarely did I hear in the same conversations about how challenging the words are to our conscience or how beautifully the lyrics reflect and convey our spiritual walk and encourage us in our growth toward spiritual maturity.

I've been offended by both sides of the argument at one time or another in the last 25-30 years' journey of worship and hymns and the changes in church music since even the 1970's.

I decided that I needed to have a humble approach and make sure my own heart and attitude were right before the Lord before I got upset with anyone else for the position they took re: church music. It has helped me tremendously, and helps us to guide our teens through similar waters.

I've witnessed humble and healthy hearts, too, on both sides of the conversation, and really get miffed at those who make sweeping generalizations, so I try to caution folks gently, know what I mean?

My humble two cents' worth



Mother Auma said...

Pride is certainly something to guard against, Javamom.

I've seen both pride and humility on the hymn-side of the argument. I have not had much contact with the praise music side, but since people are people, I am sure both proud and humble people exist who advocate/appreciate praise music as well.

My sadness regarding the setting aside of hymns is precisely because the words do challenge us, both in a literary way and a spiritual one. And a lot of the music to the old hymns have nothing to make the sentiments surge, if you know what I mean. I don't know if I can express it right, but so much of modern music pulls at basic emotion, giving a reaction that would come regardless of the words. Some hymns do that too, but there is a class of hymn that does not-- it is a simple music making that leaves the words starkly exposed and allows the spirit to come through. This is probably not making much sense, and certainly there are some hymns that pull at the heartstrings and encourage sentimentality, but there is a class of hymns that is spiritual alone. I'm pretty sure I'm not explaining this well.

You know how certain chord progressions make you feel a certain way? For instance, a V-VI progression creates a longing for resolution. This is what I am talking about. Certain of the old hymns have lines and harmonies that do not inspire purely emotional reactions like that, but the words are what stand out. And I'm sad that more folks don't get to be a part of that. That's my complaint with praise music (and some hymns, too).

I don't understand this phenomenon enough to even argue it or give examples. It is merely a sense I have of the issue. I certainly do not wish to offend. I do feel very strongly on this point, though I cannot express it clearly.

Javamom said...

I know neither of us wish to offend. I'm just remembering folks singing the old hymns without even thinking about the cords or the words, just singing them emptily and habitually. That's one of the things that drove me nuts for decades, and pushed me on a quest for deeper commitment in a body of believers. I wanted people to care about what they sang, connect with it, not just habitually sing it. That's what I saw too much from the old hymn and gospel singing crowd. But I do not wish to be so harsh on my upbringing.

I know what you mean about the V VI progressions and the I IV V I type cords and resolution. It is one reason we love the symphony so much, that connecting on a deeper level to truly beautiful music.

You knew that some of the old hymns were just lyrics added to bar tunes, right?

I have an incredible story from an old vintage book about pride in the church helped me realize the issues of today are not knew at all, nor so earth shattering as I once felt they were. I'll let you read it sometime :-)

Thanks for the stimulating discussion...I have been on many sides of this issue, a capella wise, instrumentally, as a worshipper both on stage and off, leading at conferences, singing with church a capella and instrumental choirs. Yes, most of the time it's just our own sin causing us to stumble.

Anyway, I'd love to continue, but I must get back to grading tests.

Thanks for talking! We should talk this over tea soon!

Mother Auma said...

Yes I did know that about the bar tunes. I think it's rather funny. I trust that the simple, haunting hymns I am thinking of are not those. :O)

(And, historically, singing at all in church was condemned before it was embraced-- and singing with multiple lines [polyphony] was likewise condemned as evil before it was embraced.)

I think sinful attitudes are sinful attitudes wherever they are found. I had to struggle quite a bit with whether my singing, which was regularly praised, was worship of the Lord or me seeking the approval of others-- for years-- although there were no choirs nor worship leaders in the churches I attended growing up, and I simply sang in the pew. This is something a person can struggle with whether they sing on the podium at church or in the congregation-- it can even be a struggle for the quiet person who serves behind the scenes at a church, doing things the majority of people do not know about. What are the motivations? The Lord knows the hearts.

I still feel hymnsinging is a better way to go. The few times we have attended a church where a different tradition was embraced, we were uncomfortable.

I was having a conversation once with an acquaintance who had just found out we sing a capella at our church. She kept asking if I missed having a piano or a harp or violins in church. I kept trying to explain that if we had those things, it would be like having another nose or something-- we are not used to instruments in church, nor are we used to praise music, and when we bump up against it in a worship-type setting, it is irksome. It falls short of satisfying me, and I cannot like it.

This is not to imply that I dislike all Christian music beside hymns. I do have one or two Christian bands I like, and we also have a Twyla Paris CD that produces a calming affect on all of us girls when we play it. We do occasionally turn over to the Christian station on the radio. But I cannot get used to it in services, and wish that folks would not be so quick to dismiss hymns as irrelevant today.

Not that I think you do that, Javamom. I know you love the old hymns, too. I think your experiences growing up are such a lesson to we who are now adults. Look how the children are watching! We must be very careful not to cause another to stumble, especially not a young, impressionable person. This is so much more important than form.

And I would love to take tea with you sometime! Your house or mine?