Friday, August 13, 2010

Another Nugget from the Hymnal 1940

If you stop by here from time to time, you know that I like to dig around once in awhile in the detritus of the Hymnal 1940—items that were passed over when the “new” hymnal for the Episcopal Church was compiled … thirty years ago (!).

Today’s treasure is #348, a text penned by Frederick William Faber in 1854, nine years after his conversion from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism.

Jesus, gentlest Savior, God of might and power, Thou thyself art dwelling With us at this hour.

Nature cannot hold thee, Heav’n is all too strait For thine endless glory And thy royal state.

Out beyond the shining of the farthest star, Thou art ever stretching Infinitely far.

Yet the hearts of children Hold what worlds cannot, And the God of wonders Loves the lowly spot.

No, it’s not on the level of the ineffable early 17th century metaphysical poets (Herbert, Donne, Herrick, et al), or even Wordsworth (to choose a contemporary of Faber’s whom he admired). But there’s something quite affecting about how he lays out the paradox of the Incarnation, with subtle gestures toward New Testament imagery (say, Colossians 1): The universe itself is too small to “hold” Christ, yet that same Christ can dwell in the heart of a child.

I guess what I like about it is that it’s not only Victorian schmaltz (which it indeed is), but has both literary and theological integrity as well.

The tune, Eudoxia, by Sabine Baring-Gould (who wrote the text, but not the music, to Onward, Christian Soldiers), is one that I find quite charming, but I fear my tastes are so rarified as to be eccentric. Most would find it … well … stodgy.

1 comment:

Undergroundpewster said...

You might want to direct some of your readers to the Hymnal Revision Feasibility Study which may help with the next Hymnal.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.