thinking far too much about my field on a monday

[Sheepish Caveat: I find myself engrossed in obscure reading and musing about hymnody this morning. Read on at your peril.]

I recently heard a preacher make  a passing reference to a Beatles song in a sermon. The congregation quickly chuckled in recognition. The preacher had said that she was a “dreamer” and, “but I’m not the only one.”

I immediately recalled the meaning of “Imagine” by John Lennon (actually a solo piece by him and not a group effort). “Imagine there is no heaven…” and so on. It forcefully struck me how different the meaning of the song was from the context of a Christian sermon . I identify more with the musings of John Lennon than the gospel of contemporary Christianity.  I remember that song as plea for honesty about being alive disguised as an exercise in one’s imagination “Imagine there’s no countries…. no religions too.”

It’s doubtful that these meanings were at forefront of either the preacher or the listeners yesterday.  No matter.

Speaking of the Beatles, I often recall Father MacKenzie "writing a words to a sermon that no one will hear" thinking about the way people listen or do not do so to the music I make at church. Poor me, eh?

This morning I bogged down between the history of Hymnody I am reading and looking at hymnals in my collection.

I was reading about a pretty obscure hymn writer from the 16th century, George Wither.

His work was transitional in moving English hymnody further away from the then prevalant use of psalms in rhyme and meter (Metrical psalms).

This led me to wonder if this important but extremely out-of-fashion hymn writer had any hymns in the Hymnals I own.

I have two generations of important English Hymnals sitting on my shelves: the great “The English Hymnal” edited by one of my heroes, Ralph Vaughan Williams and its subsequent revision (copyrights in the front are from 1986-1999).

I purchased the latter on my first trip to England at Westminster Abbey’s gift shop in 2000.

I also have “Hymns Ancient and Modern” and its revision (purchased at the same time as The New English Hymnal).

I always think of Lord Peter Wimsey’s passing reference to having his “Hymns A & M” ready for morning church services.

Interestingly (to me) there are no hymns by George Wither in these volumes.

But, the editors of the 1982 American Episcopal Hymnal did include something by this historically important but probably not all that relevant hymn-writer.

In the manner of hymnal editors everywhere, they butchered the original conforming to their own needs.

Come, O come, our voices raise,
sounding God Almighty’s praise;
hither bring in one consent
heart, and voice, and instrument.

Sound the trumpet, touch the lute,
let no tongue nor string be mute,
nor a voiceless creature found,
that hath neither note nor sound.

Come ye all before his face,
in this chorus take your place;
and amid the mortal throng,
be you masters of the song.

Let, in praise of God, the sound
run a never-ending round,
that our songs of praise may be
everlasting, as is he.

So this huge wide orb we see
shall one choir, one temple be;
where in such a praiseful tone
we will sing what he hath done.

Thus our song shall overclimb
all the bounds of space and time;
come, then, come, our voices raise,
sounding God Almighty’s praise.
Words: George Wither (1588-1667), alt.

Hymnal 1982, # 430

A generall Invitation to praise God


(1:1)Come, Oh come in pious Laies,
(2) Sound we God-Almighti’s praise.
(3) Hither bring in one Consent,
(4) Heart, and Voice, and Instrument.
Mufick adde of ev’ry kinde ;

(2.1a) Sound the Trump, the Cornet winde.
(1b) Strike the Violl, touch the Lute.
(2) Let nor Tongue, nor String be mute :
(3) Nor a Creature dumb be found,
(4) That hath either Voice or Sound.


Let those Things which do not live
In Still-Musik, praises give.
Lowly pipe, ye Wormes that creep.
On the Earth, or in the Deep
, your Voices strain,
Beasts, and Monsters of the Main.
Birds, your warbling Treble sing.
Clouds, your Peals of Thunders ring.
Sun and Moon, exalted higher,
And bright Stars, augment this Quire.


(3:1) Come ye Sons of Humane-Race,
(2) In this Chorus take a place ;
(3) And, amid the mortall-Throng,
(4) Be you Masters of the Song.
Angels, and supernall Powr’s,
Be the noblest Tenor yours.
(4:1) Let in praise of God, the sound
(2) Run a never-ending Round ;
(3) That our Song of praise may be
(4) Everlasting as is He.


From Earths vast and hollow wombe,
Musicks deepest Base may come.
Seas and Flouds, from shore to shoare,
Shall their Counter-Tenors roare.
To this Consort, ( when we sing )
Whistling Winds your Descants bring.
(6:1) That our song may over clime,
(2) All the Bounds of Place and Time.
And ascend from Sphere to Sphere,
To the great All-mightie’ s eare.


So, from Heaven, on Earth, he shall
Let his gracious Blessings fall:
(5:1) And this huge wide Orbe, we see
(2) Shall one Quire, one Temple be ;
(3) Where, in such a Praise, full Tone
(4) We will sing, what he hath done,
That the cursed Fiends below,
Shall thereat impatient grow.
(6:3) Then, oh Come, in pious Laies,
Sound we God-Almighties praife.

George Wither, Haleluia or, Britain’s second Remembrancer (London, 1641)  from The Hymnal 1982 Companion: Volume Three B  Hymns 395 to 720; Raymond F. Glover, ed.  1994, paraphrase of psalm 148

I have copied this carefully so that it shows how it has been bowdlerized by the editors of the Hymnal 1982 (or someone since the editors point out that this three stanza version also exists in Congregational Praise, 1951).

Having said that, I think the newer version is a good one while the original has a certain charm. I especially like the references to music and singers (Bass, Counter tenor, Descant in a Consort, verse 4.)


Disney and Reagan, United at Presidential Library –

Reagan and Disney the perfect combination.


Alexander Cockburn, Left-Wing Writer, Dies at 71 –

It took this obit to teach me how to say this guy’s name (COH burn). I have been reading him with alternating consternation and admiration for years. He was quite a character. I disagreed with him more often than I found his ideas useful. But what the heck.


Head for the Cliff –

Bill Keller thinks President Obama should play the Republican obduracy game.


How Much Has Citizens United Changed the Political Game? –

This writer makes a case that our present system of campaign finance would be fucked up even without Citizen United.


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