Monday, March 7, 2011

Presentation Hymns

When, at the 10:30 service, we began singing hymns other than “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” as a presentation hymn, I was not disturbed by our not singing all the verses of whatever hymn we do sing. We were singing more hymns, after all, and I considered that a good thing.

Sometimes, however, this works out better than at other times. Although hymns often have stanzas that are fairly independent of one another, in other cases, abridging the hymn destroys whatever story the hymn is trying to tell.

I know this well from hymns I’ve written myself. “O Lord the Invisible,” which has six stanzas, could lose some of the middle stanzas without loss of integrity. On the other hand, eliminating any of the four stanzas of “Authorities” would destroy the whole point of the hymn.

Alas, when we abridge hymns for use at the presentation, we don’t seem to consider the text very deeply. Eight days ago, we sang the first two stanzas of “O worship the King,” that is, we sang
O worship the King,
all glorious above!
O gratefully sing
his power and his love!
Our shield and defender,
the Ancient of Days,
pavilioned in splendor,
and girded with praise.

O tell of his might!
O sing of his grace!
Whose robe is the light,
whose canopy space.
His chariots of wrath
the deep thunderclouds form,
and dark is his path
on the wings of the storm.
The hymn starts out fine, but the second stanza is a little frightening, with its wrath, thunderclouds, and storm. I felt rather uneasy leaving matters there. The hymn continues
The earth, with its store
of wonders untold,
Almighty, thy power
hath founded of old,
hath ’stablished it fast
by a changeless decree,
and round it hath cast,
like a mantle, the sea.

Thy bountiful care,
what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air;
it shines in the light;
it streams from the hills,
it descends to the plain,
and sweetly distills
in the dew and the rain.
This is more reassuring. The hymn—at least in Hymnal 1980—ends with these comforting words:
Frail children of dust,
and feeble as frail,
in thee do we trust,
nor find thee to fail;
thy mercies, how tender!
How firm to the end!
Our Maker, Defender,
Redeemer, and Friend!
It would have made so much more sense to sing stanzas 1 and 5. Perhaps we’ll make better choices next time.

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