Sunday, January 03, 2010

The album someone should record

I wish it were easier to find arrangements of hymns that a) Sing all the words b) refrain from dumbing down or politically-correctifying the words, and c) put the emphasis on the words, singing them clearly and not drowning them out with too many voices or a big orchestra or annoying vocal stylings by a singer more in love with her own voice than with the lyrics she's mouthing.

One album of classic hymns that actually meets these criteria is this one. Some classic Catholic stuff was recorded in simple style on this album. If you have other recommendations along these lines, do tell!

Now I'm in the mood to once again post the words of O Little Town of Bethlehem, because it's my favorite Christmas carol, and it's still the Christmas season until the Baptism of the Lord. :) This hymn is like an Ignatian contemplation set to music. In contemplation you take a scene, usually something from the Bible (the Gospels work well), and you imagine it in detail, the place and time and people and what they're doing, sometimes placing yourself there too. And then you reach into the scene to draw out the truth hidden in it, the underlying spiritual reality, and you draw that into your heart and apply it to yourself.

I'm doing the ten-week Ignatian Exercises thing at my church again, and today they were talking about contemplation, so that's why I suddenly made the connection. I keep thinking about O Little Town of Bethlehem because it moves me so much and can't convey how. I usually end up crying right around "The hopes and fears of all the years," if not before. I mean... what can I say? If all the TV shows that played on all the channels tonight suddenly went dark, and everyone decided to contemplate these words all evening instead, we still wouldn't be close to comprehending all their richness.

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie;
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light.
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary,
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep the angels keep
Their watch of wond'ring love.
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth!
And praises sing to God the King,
And peace to men on earth!

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming;
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell,
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!


Warren said...

Beth N. Chapman's follow-up album to that Hymns one is called Prism. It looks really cool. It is subtitled "songs for the human family", and the idea comes from the her appreciation of Bp. Desmond Tutu's ideal of a common humanity underlying all world religions.

Very interesting and kind of cool.


Rachel Ann said...

I totally hate that we don't sing all the words!! You might try Christopher Miner: All Good Things Come from the Desert ( Though you may not like his voice. And his new album isn't brilliant.

JimAroo said...

That was an excellent description of Ignatian Contemplation.

Rachel Gray said...

Thanks for the recommendations, guys! JimAroo, that's because I heard your talk about it last weekend. :)