Academic journal article The Hymn

From the Executive Director

Academic journal article The Hymn

From the Executive Director

Article excerpt

The current advertising campaign of a prominent Boston clothing store proclaims, "Spring hopes eternal," obviously a play on Alexander Pope's famous couplet in his Essay on Man (understood then as a generic term, of course): "Hope springs eternal in the human breast; / Man never is, but always to be blest."

Even though I have some quibbles with the grammar of the advertiser's revision, I must admit that perky daffodils, unfurling forsythia, and gradually greening tree branches do lend a decidedly hopeful tone to this season in New England. In such surroundings, it is easy to see how the formative generations of Christians living in the northern hemisphere could discern parallels between nature's regeneration and the good news of resurrection proclaimed in the church's calendar about the same time.

Inevitably, those parallels worked themselves into Easter hymns by Venan - tius Honorius Fortunatus, John of Damascus, and others, and have been perpetuated by subsequent hymnwriters down to our own day. In many ways it is understandable why and how people might look to nature for corroboration and expansion of their faith, but the problem with their assumptions and assertions is that they treated those correlations as universally and eternally true. Without realizing it, they limited both the expression and the appeal of what they affirmed.

The bubble of my own naivete in such matters was irrevocably burst at the Hymn Society conference in Washington, DC, in 1992. When Shirley Erena Murray gently but firmly reminded us northern hemisphere folk that we had imposed our seasonal calendar on the teaching and hymnody of the church, I suddenly realized how we had hardened convenient metaphors into nonapplicable descriptions. …

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