Monday, November 05, 2012

Let's Be Honest. Some Hymns Are Pretty Weird

'hymns & psalms' photo (c) 2011, kevin rawlings - license: those of you who follow the church calendar, yesterday was All Saints' Sunday (and, of course, if you really care about such things, you know that the actual "All Saints' Day" is November 1st, and this was simply the first Sunday after that, but I digress). In recognition of this event, some churches focus on the legacy of Christians who have lived before us. This may be done in various ways. Some churches focus on the stories of the characters of the Bible. Others focus on Christian leaders throughout history. A church might read off a list of loved ones within that church's family that have passed away within the past year. Perhaps the most commonly shared ritual, however, is the singing of songs dedicated to remembering the saints of all types within the Christian faith.

It is in this last vein that I was reminded of a particularly odd hymn. It was written by Lesbia Scott (even recognizing that the world was no doubt different when she was born in 1898, this is definitely the kind of name that causes one to ask, "What were her parents thinking?"), in the early part of the 20th century. It is, essentially, a children's song, designed to get kids thinking about the saints of Christian history, and to encourage them to consider ways in which they, too, can be saints of God.

Here, for example, is the first verse:
I sing a song of the saints of God,
Patient and brave and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died
For the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
And one was a shepherdess on the green;
They were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.
Look at the way that list of saints just rolls trippingly down. I can easily see this as a song that kids commit to memory at an early age. The tune most commonly associated with this song wasn't the one originally attached to it (this is common with hymns), but it was written especially for it (less common), and fits the "children's hymn" concept very nicely.

It is the second verse in which the oddity really begins to strike home. Here's is the second half of the verse:
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
And one was slain by a fierce wild beast;
And there's not any reason, no, not the least,
Why I shouldn't be one too.
What was Ms. Scott thinking when she wrote that? "Not any reason, no not the least, why I shouldn't be (a saint) too"? How about that one you just got done singing about? You know, the saint who "was slain by a fierce wild beast"? That sounds like an awfully good reason why a person wouldn't want to be a saint! And this is a song for kids!

Some hymns are pretty weird....

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