Friday, January 31, 2003

The Word of God is Source and Seed
I feel like doing one of those thoughtful, nuanced posts today, rather than a rant or a rollick.

This is the name of a hymn by Sr. Delores Dufner, O.S.B. that we sang at Mass the other day. It is sung to the tune called "Winchester New," which you may know as "On Jordan's Bank." I can't say that it is a bad hymn, but it does suffer a little from political correctness and from fuzzy theology. I'm going to comment on it one stanza at a time:
The Word of God is source and seed;
it comes to dies and sprout and grow.
So make your dark earth welcome-warm;
root deep the grain God bent to sow.
Obviously this is based on the parable of the sower and the seed. I suppose when it says the Word of God is source and seed, it means that it is sower and seed. I guess the word "souce" works with the meter better, but it does make it more impersonal.

Which brings me to my biggest criticism. The use of the word "It" at the beginning of line two strikes me as oddly depersonalizing, since we are obviously already referring to Christ (and, as we shall see, the Holy Spirit). True, the parable was referring to a seed, which in English is referred to as "it." I'm thinking this may be because of a hesitancy to call Jesus or the Holy Spirit "he." This hesitency to call Christ "he" is exhibited even in the third verse, where Jesus is mentioned explicitly. The phrase "make your dark earth welcome-warm" has a kind of sexual penumbra to me, which may even have been in the parable, but seems especially strong when written by a woman, as this song is. I really like the image "God bent to sow." It hightlights the divine condescension.
The Word of God is breath and life;
It comes to heal and wake and save.
So let the Spirit touch and mend
and rouse our dry bones from their grave
I get the point that the Holy Spirit continues the ministry of Christ in our day through the ministry of the Church, but this equation of the Word of God with the Holy Spirit strikes me as unbiblical. And even if it were legitimate it seems strange to put the verse about the Holy Spirit before the one on Christ. Obviously Word and Breath are related, but certainly distinct. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is the Word made flesh. He (note "he") came to heal and wake and save. The Spirit continues to make this activity of the Word present in the Church, and so would "touch and mend and rouse [our] dry bones from their grave. A little precision would help this verse a lot.
The Word of God is flesh and grace
who comes to sing, to laugh and cry.
So dare to be as Jesus was,
Who came to live and love and die.
This is my least favorite verse. We finally get to the Christological verse and are a tad deflated. "Flesh" and "grace" seem a little low in its Christology. I'm flesh and grace, so to speak, but I'm hardly the word of God. How about "The Word of God is God and man"? So, if you sing, laugh, cry, live, love and die, you are an imitator of Christ. A pretty vague job description. Love, of course, if fleshed out properly, would be sufficient. Let's interpret this with a most liberal interpretation and give Sr. Delores the benefit of the doubt. I wish she had fleshed it out, however.

The final verse is a repeat of the first verse. It would have been cool if she had changed the "it" at the beginning of line two to a "he," just to make the point explicit that verses two and three were the real meaning of verse one. But, I suppose since the "Word" in this song refers to the Holy Spirit, Sr. Delores didn't wan't to refer to the Holy Spirit as "he." So we are left with an impersonal image.

I think with a little work this hymn could be much better. Theological precision is not a bad thing when it comes to hymn-writing.

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