Theology of hymns

My friend Diana has been musing on our being unable to sing hymns in churches because of the coronavirus pandemic and how many of us are missing them. This is the reflection that she has sent me.

I have just come home from a trip to Cornwall. While I was there I visited several churches, some of which were open. One which I particularly enjoyed was St Just in Roseland, just by a creek. It has a large garden and is lovely and peaceful, even when the gardener was using the strimmer on and off! Even that couldn’t destroy the shalom that we felt as we sat by the water. The church is on the site of a 6th century Celtic chapel, reminding us how important Celtic Christianity was in Cornwall. The present building was built in the thirteenth century; a rector in the 19th century introduced many tropical plants into the garden most of which still flourish today. All along the, quite long, path down from the car park to the church are granite stones on which are written scripture verses, poems and verses from hymns. Apparently as each one was put in place the priest did a service of blessing over it.

The visit to this church reminded me how much I miss singing hymns in church at the moment. Apart from the joy of singing them I find that there is much in hymns to help us understand theology, and because we are singing them this tends to slow us down and encourage us to think about the words. I have so many hymns that I couldn’t possibly identify just one favourite but ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy’ is up there among them. I particularly value the verse: ‘But we make His love too narrow By false limits of our own; And we magnify His strictness With a zeal He will not own’. For many of us I believe, and certainly for me, it is difficult to completely believe in God’s unconditional love: there is nothing we can do to make Him love us more, and nothing we can do to make Him love us less. Perhaps this hymn is just another way of saying Psalm 86:15 ‘But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’, but easier to remember.

Although I fear it will be sometime before we are able to sing hymns in church again, there is nothing to stop us singing them at home, remembering always that we are told to make a joyful, not necessarily a tuneful, noise to God! Try singing along with a recording or YouTube video: there is one of this hymn recorded with an orchestra in Maida Vale at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=vJwfT3SY_PU; or you can hear St Paul’s singing it at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=raMn2iV9x2E . If you don’t have access to the computer you can ring Daily Hope on 0800 804 8044. I also recommend that you reconnect with Songs of Praise which is usually on at 1.15pm on BBC1. In addition to hearing, and singing the hymns, there are interviews with all sorts of people about what their faith means to them. Particularly if you are housebound, or only going out very little, it is easy to feel disconnected from other Christians and I hope that you will find that tuning into these different ideas can help you to feel less isolated.

Diana

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