Monday, July 2, 2012

Canada Day


by Alice Valdal

As we celebrate Canada Day, I got to thinking about anthems, and hymns and wondering what made some timeless and others  fleeting. " The Maple Leaf Forever" was an unofficial anthem for Canada for many years but has fallen out of favour latterly because of its militaristic language and emphasis on Canada's British heritage to the exclusion of all others.  It's still a great tune, beloved of marching bands.  Did you know there is a whole new set of words?  Ones that emphasis the beauty of the land itself and acknowledge our status as a nation of immigrants from all over the world.  It will be interesting to see if the new version seeps into the consciousness of the next generation as surely as the old version soaked into the hearts and minds of a previous one.
   Hymns raise similar questions.  Why is it that "Guide Me , O Thou Great Jehovah" has rung down through the ages since the words were written in the mid-18th century, while "Jesus is the Man" set to the same tune, Cwm Rhondda, first appeared in The Hymn Book of the Anglican Church of Canada and the United Church of Canada in 1971 but didn't make it into Voices United, the current hymn book of the United Church?  "God of Concrete, God of Steel"
also appeared in the 1971 book but disappeared in the later one.  Neither hymn appears in the latest hymn book of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. 
    Nor does one of the most popular hymns of the 20th century, "In the Garden."  Since it's composition in 1912 this hymn has been published in 190 hymnals, but not those of mainstream Canadian protestant denominations.  
     "For Beauty of Prairies" is a lovely hymn written by Walter Farquharson written in 1971.  It has only been published in two hymnaries, both for the United Church of Canada, probably because the text is very Canadian in its references to "prairies and grandeur of trees."  SPPC has a version of it as a choir anthem.

    Of course, popularity is not the only measure of a hymn's value.  Many hymns once popular hymns have disappeared in modern usage and with good reason.  "All Things Bright and Beautiful" once contained the verse "The rich man in his castle,/The poor man at his gate,/God made them high and lowly,/And ordered their estate."  A sentiment valued by a society that esteemed class and the divine right of kings, but not one that treasures democratic principles.  

    "Holy, Holy, Holy," appears in 1283 hymnals.  I don't know if that's a record but it might be. Of course, this hymn has over 150  years of history.  "The Servant Song" written in 1977 has been published in 21 hymnals, including our own. 
    So why "Servant Song" and not "God of Concrete?"  I think the answer lies in the universality of the message.  An ode to cities and construction doesn't reach the hearts of people in many places and many times, but the notion of servanthood is one of the pillars of Christian belief.  Perhaps that's the reason the Presbyterian Church places such emphasis on the Psalms.  We can't go wrong in the theology of our hymns if they are taken from Biblical texts.

    So, what are your favourite hymns?  Have they stood the test of time?  Will they?  Leave a comment below.

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