Cromey Online

The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Listening to Hymns

I love to listen to our CDs, tapes and recordings of the hymns of the church. We have an extensive collection of hymns and church music from Wells Cathedral that has recorded five CDs of the most beloved English Hymns; I have CDs from St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, Salisbury Cathedral, parish church choirs from around the country and world, from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and lots more. In addition we have a collection of Bach Cantatas.

I find I am soothed and relaxed listening to the hymns; sometimes I sing along; other times I hum and just sit back and let the music carry my thoughts wherever they go. I like to play a rousing hymn or two to start the day or when I first get into the car to go off to the day’s activities. I find the hymns truly uplift my sprits.

Choral music is so communal, even when I am listening alone. Choirs of men, women, boys and girls are singing and invite me to sing along.

Recently I came upon a country western group called Alabama and their CDs of the most popular and most corny hymns so beloved by church people for a couple of generations: Rock of Ages, Amazing Grace, I Come to the Garden Alone, What a Friend We Have in Jesus. Normally, I hate the over - pious, sentimental, simplistic words and music. But I just sing along and am sometimes rather moved by the stunning familiarity of such music. At times I wish I had the simple faith and easy religion expressed in those hymns. My own faith is very rational, critical, liturgical and justice centered. I find myself chuckling at the notion of Jesus as my friend. The Jesus I know is a tough - talking New York Jew, criticizing the established order and yelling for peace. What would I do if Jesus were my friend? I’d probably hate him because he’d make me feel cowardly and soft and lazy.

In the Anglican hymns, I love There’s Wideness in God’s Mercy. But I stumble over the line “There is no place where earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in heaven.” The geography of up there, the hubris of saying that our earthly sins are felt more deeply in heaven is charming. But the hymns are expressions of feeling and attitude rather than rational stories.

If the CD is playing hymns of the church year, I love to hear Silent Night on July Fourth or Jesus Christ is Risen Today on Christmas Eve.

Hymns bring sad memories. Oh God Our Help in Ages Past reminds me of the day at The General Theological Seminary in1952 when students carried the casket bearing Fr. Yates’ body out of the chapel. Amazing Grace reminds me of the seventy-two funerals of gay men who died of AIDS while I was rector of Trinity Church, San Francisco, in the 1980’s.

Hymns also bring warm memories. Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee, reminds me of Ann’s and my wedding day.

Listening to a wide variety of church music is a delightful spiritual exercise. It produces thoughts of our Christian faith, a sense of the presence of God in our lives and an easy and joyful recollection of the faith of our mothers and fathers and our own.

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