Artists of all stripes have a signature style, a turn of phrase or brush or pen or finger that marks them as distinctive, a common theme or mood that repeats throughout a body of work.
If we are seeing a representative sampling of Brian Wren’s hymns, then his signature is a propensity for expanding the labels we use for the Divine, in a Christian milieu. And while I don’t always like his hymns (much to the dismay of some of my colleagues), it is good that we have in musical arts (as with all art) a propensity to challenge the norms.
In this hymn, Wren goes a step beyond lists and offers an actual point: hush, shout, sing! Do a thing! Don’t just wax poetic (or is that pedantic?) about God, worship! Proclaim!
And because of this, I can forgive Wren his predisposition for lists.
God of many names, gathered into one,
in your glory come and meet us, moving, endlessly becoming:
God of hovering wings, womb and birth of time,
joyfully we sing your praises, breath of life in every people,
Hush, hush, halleluia, halleluia!
Shout, shout, halleluia, halleluia!
Sing, sing, halleluia, halleluia!
Sing God is love, God is love!
God of Jewish faith, Exodus and Law,
in your glory come and meet us, joy of Miriam and Moses:
God of Jesus Christ, rabbi of the poor,
joyfully we sing your praises, crucified, alive forever,
God of wounded hands, web and loom of love,
in your glory come and meet us, Carpenter of new creation:
God of many names gathered into one,
joyfully we sing your praises, moving, endlessly becoming,
I will also say this is one of the more interesting tunes I’ve heard his lyrics set to – where Name Unnamed can feel very dull and pedestrian after half a verse, this melody by William Rowan has some interest, and the chorus has energy. It requires a bit of teaching/modeling before letting a congregation sing it, but it has definite potential, especially this week, as we have just celebrated Easter. (And maybe it is an Easter song?)
One final note: This is the first song of a new section, Jewish and Christian Teachings, under the heading Worship. Thus, I might have had a bit of whiplash, given that the congregation I serve is working through Buddhism this month in our Conversation with World Religions, and given that yesterday’s final hymn of the “Common Ground” section was a Hindu song of devotion. I thought to myself, after singing through, “God of many names, eh? Well… God of many CHRISTIAN names…” because that’s what it is.
Anyway, lo and behold, a Brian Wren song that I don’t despise! Halleluiah!