I always wonder a bit when someone mentions to me, 'Oh, I do like the old hymns - I have such fond memories of singing them as a child.' No offense, I probably nod politely when I hear that. But in my mind I'm thinking, 'Oh, you don't love hymns the way I love hymns.' Then I smack myself for my own personal revelation of a less-than-humble, snobby attitude. To each his own I say - yes, you can like hymns because you sang them as a kid - I like them maybe some for that reason, but maybe that amounts to less than 5% of my personal choice of music, lyrical appreciation of this form of sacred music.
I guess I wonder if people who haven't come to appreciate hymns (I mean, the ones that appear in those old, worn, non-descript, boring-looking, dull-coloured thick hardback books that are nowadays relegated to some back closet collecting dust), have just not hit major grief in their life enough to find the deep solace offered in the texts of these older gems. Sure, there are nice, comforting songs coming out every year by pseudo-pop contempo-groupie singer types. And I really like some of these new ones, and the new drive to maximize meaningful content of contemporary songs - with lyrically rich metaphors and an effort to stick to some kind of metre! What I mean is, it isn't so much the music of hymns (which I generally appreciate unless they're completely unsingable or ghastly, in which case I do my best effort at re-writing a more pretty or appropriate melody), it is the words that offer the best catechizing for my weak and poor heart. We are taught best when our emotions are most heightened - either driven to curious seeking, or to desperate need-driven search for hope. A hymnal (most of them) offers the soul a perfect medium of instructing the heart in matters of theology, wisdom, comfort and hope. Where does your hymnal sit, if you even own one? Often there is one on my bedside table and I start at number 1 and go through in order, skipping past those that offer poor theology (there are those, in fact!) or those that are just fluff (lots of fluff in ages past, as there is now!), until my heart, and eyes find one that is a lost, forgotten gem. Then I read it over and over, usually with tears, as an open-hearted prayer to God.
If someone tells me they love hymns, I do wonder if they love them because their life has been instructed, their hope has been confirmed, their joy has been heightened by their constant use of and worship through the pages of an old book that most would have discarded. I wonder if they have sat for hours at a piano or on a couch or anywhere with a hymnal being brought to true worship - worship that is quiet, unnoticed, private and personal.
These are some of the few reasons I love hymns.
Last night I caught the beginning of my all-time favourite radio program, Sound of Majesty. The opening hymn was "Praise my soul, the King of Heaven" sung by a majestic choir. My heart was transported to the throne-room of the Father above. I was alone in the car, waiting in the driveway to turn it off, until the song finished. But that 2 minutes of worship will not be forgotten. In the words of another of my favourite hymns:
"So shall no part of day or night,
From sacredness be free,
But my whole life, in every part,
Be fellowship with Thee."
And so, I, with unashamed passion declare that I love hymns. If you know me at all, you know that that isn't a blanket statement for all hymns in all hymnals - there are some crazy ones out there - 'God of concrete God of steel, God of piston and of wheel...'! But I guess I don't need to clarify. You know what I mean.