Marie Greenway is a music teacher at Immanuel Lutheran School in Alexandria, Virginia. She graduated from Hillsdale College with a degree in music and has worked and volunteered as a church musician for several years. When Marie is not studying, listening to, or performing music, she likes to read, run, and eat chocolate ice cream.
March 21, 2019
I live right outside Washington, DC, a transient area where a two-year resident is practically a seasoned veteran. This area recalls the constant movement of our culture and the idea that things simply do not last or even last long. In this day of discarding the barely used for the brand new, how do we ensure that our artistic endeavors in the Church last? Specifically, how can our hymn texts survive a rapidly changing culture?
Classic Literature and Hymns
I am an avid reader and, at the risk of sounding elitist, primarily enjoy classic literature. You know, those lists of “The 100 Greatest Novels of All Time” or “50 Classic Books Everyone Should Read in Their Lifetime.” My shelves, like the shelves of many, are filled with Homer and Dante, Austen and Shakespeare, Hardy and Eliot and Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Why do we read classic literature? Why do these sometimes centuries-old stories still appeal to us today as much as they did in Ancient Greece or Victorian England or twentieth-century America? Why do the tales of fictional men and gods, heroes and heroines never grow old?
These stories survive because they tell us something true about human nature, the human nature that has not changed since the creation of Adam.
Furthermore, they point to the nature of God and man’s relationship with God. In all those works considered “classic literature,” we find certain universal truths that remain unchanged through the centuries.
Our hymns do much the same. Each hymn is not only a retelling of God’s Word, a prayer to God, or an explication of a biblical text but also a comment on man’s true nature, on God’s true nature, and on the relationship between the two. When we sing hymns every Sunday, we are reflecting on who we are, who God is, and what our relationship to God is. These hymn texts declare the truth to us week after week, and we, by singing those texts, declare the truth in our turn.