Hymnody and Theology

I still have enough skill on the piano to at least play hymns. Unless they are in 5 sharps or flats. Forget that.

piano playing

To pass the time in a personal care home I spent an hour playing a lovely Clavinova for my mother. The playing of hymns I hoped would spark some recognition in her memory. Page after page I found old Baptist classics; Jesus, Wondrous SaviourAll Things Bright and Beautiful, Just As I Am, When Morning Gilds the Skies, Can I Little Child Like Me, Jesus Bids Us Shine.

One of the keyboard buttons made the instrument sound like a huge pipe organ.  Immediately I was transported back to my home church where Sunday after Sunday I was lucky enough to listen to the most amazing organist.

Music embeds ideas into young brains. I reminisced silently about the theology enshrined in those old hymns. Some of them grand and expansive, like Immortal, Invisible, Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee. Some which exude the love of the Divine Presence, like God Sees the Little Sparrow Fall. And then I ran across this one:

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It had four other verses:

Oh be careful little eyes
Oh be careful little mouths
Oh be careful little ears
Oh be careful little hands

That just about covered every body part. And sitting there as a little girl in my Sunday best on that big wooden pew that message just didn’t jive then nor does it now. A Heavenly Father glaring at me every second with a judgement rod, more like. I realize that all those hymns kept reinforcing this exterior being always ‘out there’ who was quick to pronounce eternal damnation.

It’s amazing how music can affect you.

Recently I attended an evangelical worship service which is not my norm. The music was led by, what is now termed, a ‘praise band’. And the lyrics glow from an overhead screen above. The songs are impossible to grasp. They are not written for congregational singing at all, but for trained performers. The theology is half baked, at best. Mostly self-centred crap and completely unmemorable tunes. Soap box.

There is something to be said for the musicality of the ancient hymnwriter, the singability of tried and true tunes (sometimes lifted from secular songs and saloons). But my choice is simple singable chants from the ecumenical Taize community in France. “Singing is one of the most essential elements of worship. Short songs, repeated again and again, give it a meditative character. Using just a few words they express a basic reality of faith, quickly grasped by the mind. As the words are sung over many times, this reality gradually penetrates the whole being. Meditative singing thus becomes a way of listening to God.”

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Music: J. Berthier
Copyright Ateliers et Presses de Taize.


The Taize movement has profoundly affected my music. I invite you to listen to more Taize chants and sing along.

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