I may have mentioned that I am teaching a class on hymns on Wednesday evenings. I’ve done this class before, and it is always fun. Yesterday we were talking about hymns as theological statements.
You may never think about this. For one thing, you may never think about hymns at all. I bet there are people who don’t think about hymns from one year to the next. I found, when I was doing research for the music part of the current publishing project, that classrooms are apparently only talking about hymns in the context of slavery. I found this rather weird, as religious music is an enormous fraction of all available music in nearly every genre (I believe that gansta rap is an exception), and it seems slightly odd to ignore it entirely — but far more odd to make an exception for one group of people in one time and place. Anyway, this encouraged me in my belief that people don’t think about hymns nearly enough.
But hymns are theological statements, whether good ones or bad ones. And when I teach about this, I like to use for my bad example the wonderful hymn, “Jerusalem” by William Blake and Charles Parry.
Here are the lyrics:
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the Holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.
This is a wonderful hymn in the sense that it has a lovely tune (you’ll hear it if you click that link up there) and beautiful words. However, the Minister of Christian Education hit the nail on the head last night when she described it as “theologically weird.”
The first verse is asking whether Jesus ever hung out in England. You or I might assume that this is intended in a figurative sense, but there are those who believe that Jesus spent the years which aren’t detailed in the Bible in England.
Not long ago, The Empress was imprisoned in a conversation on this subject with a random customer who took it a step further. Not only did Jesus spend His formative years in England, studying with Druids and working in a tin mine with his great-uncle Joseph, but he also brought his mother with him to visit New York and lay down a fortune in copper.
Well, I have two cooking shows here at my house this weekend, so today will involve mostly cleaning, once I have done my computer work. I can sing “Jerusalem” while scrubbing.