Thursday, March 21, 2013

Powerful Words, or not so much

I love words.
So much.
A well-turned phrase is the most joyful and wonderful thing in the world to me.
I suck them in like a dude with a cuban.

A confession: when my copy of Catholic Insight arrives I head directly for my article, if I happen to have one in that issue, and soak myself in, like Narcissus sucking in the pond. I love writing. Some day to be as great as Augustine, or Nietzsche, or Coleridge, would be just such a fine thing.

Sometimes at mass, the words of divine Scripture strike my ears like Beethoven's choicest notes. My favourites? So many to speak of. The Pauline Hymns are up there - Philippians 2:5-11 and Colosians 1:15-20. There are so many powerful passages in Isaiah and the Psalms...

Sometimes at mass, the words of the hymns strike my ears like choices notes of a malfunctioning appliance. My favourite? So many to speak of. Seeing how it's Lent, Come Back to Me would be right up there:

Come back to me with all your heart,
don’t let fear keep us apart.
Trees do bend, tho’ straight and tall;
so must we to others’ call.

Long have I waited for your coming
Home to me and living deeply our new life

The wilderness will lead you
to your heart where I will speak.
Integrity and justice
with tenderness you shall know.


Long have I waited for your coming
Home to me and living deeply our new life

You shall sleep secure with peace;
faithfulness will be your joy.


Long have I waited for your coming
Home to me and living deeply our new life

Maybe it is that I have only heard this song poorly delivered? But that can't be it. Most hymns are, objectively speaking, poorly delivered. Why have I singled out this one?

This song has longed bothered me, even way back as a young convert. The chorus is the worst. The idea of an adulterer (yes, that is what Hosea is about, the biblical book apparently at the root of this hymn) simply coming home to me and living deeply our new life, is not one that appeals to me. I guess you can say I must not be a very forgiving person. Whatever.

What's up with the phrase:

Trees do bend, tho’ straight and tall;
so must we to others’ call.

So, I have to bend to whomever calls to me, is that it? I guess you meant to God's call, huh? Or, maybe you didn't. Maybe you think "being open" is just so great.

And then there's this gem:

The wilderness will lead you
to your heart where I will speak.

So, the wilderness is going to lead the wayward soul on to the right path? Sounds so very fancy. So very fancy and Pelagian. Hippy nonsense.

My apologies to old choir ladies who might read this (I doubt they constitute a high percentage of my readership), but you, it is you, who have ruined this already terrible song.

I have never complained about the liturgy at thetheologyofdad, nor especially of liturgical music. I know how hard it is to put good music together. It's way too easy to criticize and too many people do it.

So chalk this one up to the stress of Lent.

While I'm at it, I dislike the setting of the English Stabat Mater that's used at the Stations.

Why is it that the closer we get to Good Friday the more melodramatic the music becomes? Good Friday is the worst (for music). But, luckily, things quickly get better with the Easter Vigil.

Ok, it's clear now. I'm the worst Catholic ever.

7 comments:

  1. I go to my article first too.

    And don't get me started on bad church music. There's too many to name and it only riles me up.

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  2. I was just thinking about this hymn the other day, and recalling my shock and dismay when my aunt told me she wanted it sung at her funeral. Besides it being so very corrrrny, doesn't a hymn called "Come back to me" at a funeral seem like a useless and desperate plea from the mourners?

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  3. Sarah, you are vain. You should work on that over Lent.

    Jenna, too funny. Your Aunt is a Platonist, clearly.

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  4. I've always liked that hymn, not joking. Ask AM, I bet that she does as well.

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  5. Over the past year, I feel I have grown in my awareness and understanding of the role of the musician, specifically that of a music leader or director, at mass.

    I've come to realize that there are a lot of modern songs, both CBW, G&P, and the sometimes more Protestant leaning CCLI songs from Hillsong and such that come short with their lyrics. It is difficult to articulate words, messages, and truths from the Gospel stories, Pauline letters, even great texts from the Doctors of the Church, and put them eloquently into song. Some things simply don't translate well from prose to poetry!

    There are some songs, one of which you have mentioned, where the words are not very strong or articulate or even clear. I feel the song can still be sung and played with prayerful intentions.

    I do feel, however, that the pursuit in writing rich poetry and to combine it with music appropriate to the various moods and parts of the mass is worth doing.

    Surely we can do better than "Come Back To Me", and certainly I am but one of many aspiring writers who is attempting to do so, in my own small way, with the talents the Lord has given me.

    So, thanks for your post. I appreciate hearing people's thoughts on music in the liturgy!

    Also, great blog. I check in on a weekly basis!

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  6. Elena, not fair. You hit my Achilles Heel.

    Joe, by no means do I think writing good music is easy. That's why I hesitate to criticize! But, let's not use that as an excuse to take the easy route either. I'm not sure, but I am suspicious that people can whip up a new music book at the drop of the hat whenever they need to. It seems to me, great poets take ages to construct their works of genius. You can't just whip up good songs, good lyrics, good melodies... People need to treat this as the fine art it is.

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