Tuesday, August 26, 2008

My love for God and neighbour

Christopher Idle is an Anglican minister, hymn writer, and hymn book editor. He has some interesting things to say about trends in contemporary hymns in his blog for the British hymnbook Praise!
The other day I looked it up again: ‘True hymnwriters have not sought primarily to write hymns, but to know God’. No doubt Margaret Clarkson had in mind the Westminster Catechisms as well as Jeremiah 9 and John 17. Who is she? I must tell you next time. But that opening quote is this month’s text. Someone else said, ‘It’s much easier to write hymns than to love God.’ The next step: it’s easier to sing ‘I love you, Lord’, than to do it.

Recently I tried to survey what we actually sing about loving God. It is after all the most important command of all. Please excuse me if you have already come across my findings. Without reprinting it all here, it seems that from Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley up to about 1970, we expressed that love in terms of wistful longing, conscious failure, lukewarmness, half-heartedness, and the desire to love him more. (As you may have noticed if you subscribe to Evangelicals Now, monthly, or the quarterly Bulletin of the Hymn Society. Anyway, up to then it was ‘my love for him, so faint and poor’.)

Soon after 1970, everything changed. We were now all telling God how very much we did love him, to the accompaniment of suitable or unsuitable but certainly repeated music. We did not always say why, but we did, apparently. There are exceptions to this broad summary, but the main trend and the seventies turnaround are unmistakable.
I draw no conclusions here. But a friend challenged me to do something similar with the command that Jesus insisted on adding: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ For two reasons, I haven’t yet succeeded.
One, it would be a needle-and-haystack job.
Two, that to pose the question is to know the answer. Even if we can trace the ‘Love of neighbour’ hymns through the indexes which your church’s hymn-book (music edition) will have, who among us could stand and sing with tremendous gusto or even Holy Spirit anointing, this new worship-song:
O how I love you, my dear, dear neighbour;
I just feel in my heart
the overflowing, ever-growing, never-going love that’s just for you!
You are so beautiful, you are quite wonderful, you’re simply adorable;
this love so free has just taken over me!

Have you come across that? Probably not because, to be fair, I have only just written it. It hasn’t even got any music yet, so come on, lads, give it a go. Which leads me to ask, If I can be so sure that I love God so much, why am I far too coy, reticent, humble or realistic to say I love my neighbour? Or my brother, sister or enemy? As we all know, anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.’

Ah well. As some Anglicans get as far as muttering through gritted teeth most Sunday mornings: ‘The peace of the Lord be with you’.
Chris Idle

1 comment:

Lucy said...

Very interesting... thanks for that :)