“12 For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.” Doctrine and Covenants 25:12
I guess this is meant to be about the hymns, but honestly, there are many instances when the singing of or listening to hymns does not delight my soul…I find a great power in music, generally, but frequently struggle with the practical reality of singing hymns in Church.
Partly my issue lies with the hymns themselves. Most (probably all) have solid messages in the lyrics that I support (or at least in what I imagine was/is the idea behind them). I cannot endorse the music that accompanies them so unequivocally. Many of the hymns just sound dinky. There. I said it. Musically, lots of them are just lame and/or unpleasant. Am I going to be struck by lightning? Perhaps. But, let’s be real—if that’s all it takes, then it’s been a long time coming. Unfortunately, even if the hymns have a beautiful message, the lyrics themselves can lack the poetry of life. And when the lyrics are cheesy, it’s hard to find value and feel the true power contained within the message of the hymn.
Recently another Christian congregation decided to raise some money by allowing members of the congregation to pay to ban them from singing particular hymns for an entire year, which inspired this post at Wheat and Tares about LDS Hymns.
Let’s look at some specifics to flesh out what it is that irritates me.
Exhibit A: “There is Sunshine in My Soul Today.” I’m all for sunshine and happiness (really. Despite what my snarky, cynical exterior may lead you to believe). But there’s just something dinky about it. It’s irritatingly cheerful and drives out the sunshine that might have been shining on my soul.
Exhibit B: “Have I Done Any Good?” I love the idea of this hymn. But all I can think of when I sing it is a twangy banjo with possums. Like that horrific and hilarious scene from A Goofy Movie.
Exhibit C: “The Spirit of God.” I want to love this hymn. And I do. For the first verse or two, but by the time we get to the middle of the chorus on the second verse I am ready to be done. It just goes on forever and ever. The lyrics here are pretty solid and I love some of them, but singing it is painful.
Exhibit D: “Love at Home.” I just can’t even. Everything about this song reminds me of the fake-smiley-shiny-happy-people bits of Church culture that just aren’t me. It’s saccharine.
That being said, often it is the performance of the hymn that condemns (or saves it). All too frequently we sing hymns as if they were a funeral dirge. SO slow. It’s like being stuck behind the one person walking at a snail’s pace, while everyone around you is cruising and there’s nothing you can do to reach a normal speed, you try and inch up behind them, breath heavily to signal your presence, ‘accidentally’ kick their feet, etc., but all to no avail. I think we may link the amount of reverence we have with the speed at which we sing, creating an inverse relationship, where the slower we sing, the more reverent and holy we are. I get where this idea could have originated from, but it’s a bunch of hogwash. Funeral dirges are not reverent. Nor will they bring delight to anyone’s soul. Seriously, who has sung a deathly slow hymn and thought, “Wow, now my soul is delighted”? No one. No one has thought that.
Another pet peeve—the congregational soloists. You all know who I’m talking about. The one or two (or heaven forbid more) people in your ward that think of themselves as quite talented (usually with good reason, to be fair), but elect to treat the congregational hymns as an opportunity to showcase the full range of their Alex Boye-esque vibrato (“Jesus Lover of My Soul” anyone?). Their voices stick out like a sore thumb and frequently make it difficult for the rest of the congregation to sing (because they are stifling their laughter…or maybe that’s just me and my judgmental self…).
Despite all of my complaints, some of the most powerful spiritual moments I remember in a group setting resulted from hymns. We had a testimony meeting where people selected a hymn, bore a brief testimony of the message and then we sang a verse or two as a congregation. It was fantastic. One of, if not the single most, the most powerful testimony meetings I’ve ever attended in my over two decades of Church attendance.
Also, some hymns I just love. Like “In Our Lovely Deseret.” Laugh. I know that everything about that hymn should be screaming “CONOR HATES ME!!” but for whatever reason I genuinely and sincerely love it. Dunno why. I mean, talk about cheesy lyrics and a dinky melody. Maybe I like it because the expectation is that I would hate it…or something that over-the-top just deserves respect for owning its own campiness. I don’t know. But I love it, so there’s that.
“If You Could Hie to Kolob” is another one that I can’t get enough of. Yeah the lyrics showcase our weirdness and can be off-putting for investigators, but I love the cosmic-sci-fi side of the Gospel, so I totally dig it. Not to mention that the melody is so catchy. And just begging to be performed with some amped up 70s-arena rock guitar solos. You know you want to hear it.
“Count Your Blessings” is one that I used to love, but now cannot stand to sing, without bobbing my head back and forth to the beats in semi (ok, full-on) mocking manner. But, there’s an incredible version by Dustin Gledhill that totally changes the melody and makes it wonderful.
I have felt the power of hymns and want to feel that more frequently. Adding new/more instruments to sacrament meetings could help, as could playing things FASTER. Please, for the love of all that is holy, any and all of you that play the organ/piano in Church, play just a titch faster than the tempo listed. It’ll make the world a better place. I’ll do my part to at least enjoy the awfulness if necessary, snarkily singing along and maybe together we can bring some delight to our souls.