As a change from "Bad hymns," we like to invite in some older hymn-writers, to tell them where they went wrong. Today we welcome St John Henry Newman, author of hymns such as Lead, kindly Light, and Praise to the Holiest in the height, which are hardly ever sung in really hip churches these days. Now, why is that?
St John Henry Newman - where did he go wrong?
E: Welcome, John, and congratulations on your Canonization - I was really rooting for you. Now, your first hymn starts:
Lead, kindly Light, amid th'encircling gloom, lead Thou me on! The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on! Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see The distant scene; one step enough for me.Not very snappy, is it? I suppose you never used to play the guitar, did you? Or shake the tambourine?
JHN: That's true, Eccles, I did try to introduce these to the Birmingham Oratory, but the traddies wouldn't have it. So how can I bring my hymn up to date?
E: Well, taking the tune of Walk in the Light, how about rewriting it as:
Lead, lead, Kindly Li-ight, Lead, lead, Kindly Li-ight, Lead, lead, Kindly Li-ight, Lead on, as I'm far from home!
Watson, the night is dark and we are far from home.
JHN: Yes, I think that would work. So Verse 2 could be:
Keep, keep Thou my fee-eet, Keep, keep Thou my fee-eet, Keep, keep Thou my fee-eet, One step's the right thing for me!E: You're learning quickly, John. This is the sort of hymn that Catholic congregations are singing these days. None of your flowery language!
JHN: Can we do something about Praise to the Holiest in the height, Eccles? It comes from my poem The Dream of Gerontius.
Gerontius, catching up on some sleep.
E: Gerontius? I suppose it's too late to give him a more with-it name? The Dream of Dave, maybe? Well, let's see how it starts:
Praise to the Holiest in the height, And in the depth be praise; In all His words most wonderful, Most sure in all His ways.E: I think the problem here, John, is that there are at least four different ideas in that verse. And later on you get very involved in sin and redemption, and all that sort of Jesus-stuff, whereas modern congregations should be singing about how happy they are.
JHN: Yes, I think I'm getting the hang of this now. Could I use the tune of "Follow me, follow me?"
When we're up in the heights, or we feel a little blue, Oh we like to praise our holy holy Friend, For He sorted us out, yes He did, for me and you, So we're saved, yes we're saved, and that's the end. Chorus: Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, praise the holy holy Lord... (ad libitum)
When we're up in the heights, or we feel a little blue...
E: Very good, John. You got through the main points of your hymn much more quickly that time, didn't you?
JHN: Thanks for your wise advice, Eccles. Now I see how real hymn-writers work.
E: Oh, by the way this "Cor ad cor loquitur" motto is a bit rigid. How about "Cor, strike a kindly light"?