I am in Peterborough, New Hampshire, preparing to lead a retreat with dear friend and colleague Diana McLean. And as I was preparing to write today, I waxed a little poetic about the Blake poem this hymn tune (Jerusalem, by Charles H.H. Parry) was written for.
And I burst into tears. Like, not just a weepy lump in my throat, but full on, reaching for the Kleenex, now I have to reapply my makeup tears. Which got worse when I read the lyrics we have in our hymnal.
I’m tellin’ ya. Ugly cry.
I’m not sure why the Blake lyrics gets to me – it’s very pro-England, very pro-Second Coming, very cliché. So cliché it’s inspired books, films, and tv shows. And I’m a bit embarrassed by my reaction. Yes, I’m an Anglophile – I love British tv and film, I love English history, I love the English countryside, and once I loved an Englishman (who broke my heart). But why does this hymn – and not so many others that scream out my personal theology – make me burst into tears?
Anyway… makeup adjusted, tissues discarded… here’s our hymn. The tune is soaring and lush, and very fitting for these words by Don Marquis. And as much as our last encounter with Marquis frustrated me, this encounter draws me directly into the mystery of life and death and Mystery itself.
Have I not known the sky and sea put on a look as hushed and stilled
as if some ancient prophecy drew close upon to be fulfilled?
Like mist the houses shrink and swell,
like blood the highways throb and beat,
the sapless stones beneath my feet turn foliate with miracle.
And life and death but one thing are — and I have seen this wingless world
cursed with impermanence and whirled like dust across the summer swirled,
and I have dealt with Presences
behind the veils of Time and Place,
and I have seen this world a star — bright, shining, wonderful in space.
Gorgeous. Simply divine, really. And as I contemplate the lyrics, and my reaction, I realize this should probably be sung at my memorial service.
No wonder I had such a strong reaction.
I end with this beautiful choral arrangement of Jerusalem – not with our lyrics, but the Blake – sung by the West Point Cadet Glee Club (the song starts at 0:26):
And now I’m crying again. Where’s the Kleenex?