Saturday, 10 December 2011

Hymnophobia

*

I don't like hymns - I much prefer a spoken Church service, using the traditional Anglican liturgy.

Obviously, I an wrong about this, in the sense that singing or chanting has always been a major part of Christian worship - in particular the psalms.

I acknowledge that far better Christians than myself have found music a valuable - even vital - element in worship.

And the Orthodox Church has the practise that only singing (not speaking) is permitted in services - although the 'singing' is often chanting a monotone (which I would regard as simply a means of vocally-projecting the words and of preventing vocal fatigue - monotone chant ought surely to be inflected just like ordinary speaking).

So, here I am being completely unreasonable...

*

But while chanting the liturgy and psalms are one thing, singing multiple hymns is quite another.

I really don't want to spend half an a hour of a Church service communally-droning half-a dozen or more multi-verse turgid hymns of vaguely praising sentiment - nor even short cheery hymns.

If I enjoy the music and my singing of it, then this is usually a non-Christian kind of enjoyment - an aesthetic enjoyment (or perhaps the enjoyment of group solidarity, like being in a football crowd).

Indeed, I used to enjoy hymns much more before I was a Christian than since I became a Christian - in fact the music was pretty much the only thing I used to enjoy about going to church; my enjoyment of hymns and the liturgy has been reciprocal, my spiritual life has grown with my hymnophobia!

*

I am backed-up in this hymnophobia by CS Lewis (who fought-against his hymnophobia, but found this difficult) and Charles Williams. Both, like me, preferred to attend the early, short, hymn-free communion or prayer services and evensong (which may be musical - but not usually hymn based) in the Church of England - rather than the main service of the day with its many hymns.

(Incidentally, these short Anglican services often also do not feature any 'sermon' or homily - which can be a valuable point in their favor in the case of politically correct priests.)

I wonder how many people are, like me, put off the whole idea of attending church by associating it with singing hymns and 'worship songs', and assuming that this is the proper focus of things?

*

Whether it is chanted or spoken sonorously, the formal Anglican liturgy (based on the Book of Common Prayer) and composed prayers are properly the focus in the services which I have personally found most valuable - the services are mostly stereotypical (the same every time) although elements change through the Church year.

These services contain the ancient wisdom and eternal perspective which we most need; whereas the improvised prayers, hymns and songs, and sermons are the place - too often - where worldliness has penetrated the Church, and taken over all-but completely.

When there is no ancient liturgy, when the words have been and continue to be changed and 're-translated' (i.e. brought into line with modern secular morality), when the forms and orders of activity are lost (I means elements like the creed, confession, Agnus Dei), when the prayers are topical and focused on utilitarian goals - then the Church is left wide-open to corruption, and has no fortifications for resistance.

And standing around and singing multiple hymns together is merely an off-putting distraction...

*