As regular readers know, one of my hymnody pet peeves is a lyric that is essentially a list and doesn’t go anywhere. Brian Wren does this, but we’ve also seen it in that seemingly endless stream of spring and summer songs early on. Look at all the things! The things are awesome.
And here we go again. A hymn, and a psalm (104) that essentially says look at all the things God does! Look! The things are awesome even if we aren’t (because let’s not forget to smite those who don’t believe the way we do… charming paradigm, eh?).
Look. I appreciate that a poet – Ridgley Torrence – recast the psalm. We did that exercise in our Old Testament class and it was amazing. And I appreciate that instead of trotting out another old tune, the hymnal commission found this one, by UU musician Robert Sanders. And more, I appreciate that this is one of the ‘modern’ carryovers from the blue hymnal (Hymns for the Celebration of Life).
But … it’s a list:
Praise, O my heart, to you, O Source of Life,
you are my tide of joy, my sea, my shore,
my field of sky with stars that never set;
now I will learn your wonders all my days,
and my vain ways in darkness be no more.
Your glory is forever, and with dance
you move among your works and they to you.
You look upon the earth, and at your glance
it sways with trembling, and above the hills
a smoke ascends where you have touched their rest.
They wait for you alone, all living things,
to have their food from you, and they are fed.
When your hand opens they are satisfied;
you give; they gather. When they think you far
a trouble comes upon them and a dread.
They go again to be the dust they tread.
You breathe upon the dust, they rise and are.
I will sing praises to you while life fills
my flesh with breath; as long as life shall stream
from you within me, I will sing your light.
Yay for all the things God can do. The things are awesome.
And seriously, it doesn’t get any better in the psalm itself. Here’s what inspired Torrence’s lyric:
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honour and majesty,
2 wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
3 you set the beams of your* chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your* chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
4 you make the winds your* messengers,
fire and flame your* ministers.
5 You set the earth on its foundations,
so that it shall never be shaken.
6 You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
7 At your rebuke they flee;
at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
8 They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys
to the place that you appointed for them.
9 You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.
10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills,
11 giving drink to every wild animal;
the wild asses quench their thirst.
12 By the streams* the birds of the air have their habitation;
they sing among the branches.
13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
14 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,*
to bring forth food from the earth,
15 and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
16 The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has its home in the fir trees.
18 The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
19 You have made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
20 You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.
21 The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
22 When the sun rises, they withdraw
and lie down in their dens.
23 People go out to their work
and to their labour until the evening.
24 O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.
26 There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.
27 These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
28 when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
30 When you send forth your spirit,* they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.
31 May the glory of the Lord endure for ever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works—
32 who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke.
33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!
Yay for all the things you do – including smiting my enemies. The things are awesome.
Maybe I’m asking too much of a hymn. Maybe it’s okay to have a reminder of all the things, and to sing about it.
I realize that this might be my musical theater bias showing – I’m of the belief that a piece of music in anything we perform – a worship service, a play, a musical, a ritual – should help the entire performed piece along. Something should be different at the end than it was at the beginning. And list songs like this don’t do any of that. To me, they’re the footnotes of the piece. (And yes, while some of those kinds of songs in musicals aren’t terrible – like “Seven Deadly Virtues” from Camelot – they still bug me.)
So yeah. I may be asking too much of a hymn. I’m just not inclined to pause to say “yay for all the things! The things are awesome.”
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