At mass today I glanced up at the signboard where the Sunday hymn numbers are listed. It's already been set up for next week. Since I'll be leading the hymns at the early mass, I looked up the numbers.
And groaned. There it was, my least favorite
lenten song,"Under the Weight of the Wood." A product of the sloppy seventies-- the "folk mass" era of my childhood-- this is one of the most inept lyrics every written. A more sorry collection of forced rhymes, poor usage, and infelicitous metaphors could hardly be found outside a sixth grade poetry class. I couldn't concentrate all through mass with the burden of All that is Wrong with this Song roiling through my brain.
So, gentle readers, permit me the catharsis of dissecting it here, so I don't end up assualting our sweet gentle choir director with a missalette at our rehearsal this week.
Under the Weight of "Under the Weight of the Wood" : a rant
Disclaimer: Yes, I know the composer's intention was a meditation on Calvary, wanting to share Christ's sorrowful journey, etc. God bless him. And if anyone can get that message from the song despite the grating lyrics, God bless them. But the rest of us should not be forced to sing badly executed poetry
Lord let me walk that lonely walk with you,under the weight of the wood,
Lord let me walk that last mile in your shoes, under the weight of the wood.
"You" and "shoes" is not a precise rhyme. "walk a mile in (someone else's) shoes" is a cliche. Also, we northern hemisphere people often think of "shoes" as closed-toe footware. Jesus wore sandals, so "shoes" in this context is distracting.
Lord, let me cool your lips, baked like clay, under etc.,
Dried up like rain on a hot, dusty day, under etc.,
Dried up like rain? Rain is not dried up. Its wet, refreshing, the opposite of what the composer is trying to say here, thus a bad word choice. I think he's trying to say "dried up like a drop of rain hitting the ground on a hot day", but one can't expect the single word "rain" to do all that work for the poet.
They gave you gall and sour wine for your food, under etc.,
Father, forgive them; they don't know what they do, under etc.,
Wine with gall is drink not food! And after all that, "food" does not really rhyme with"do", so you've made this error for nothing.
Lord, must the journey always end this way? under etc.,
How many times have we nailed you up today? under etc.,
What does the first line mean?Always? The journey to Calvary took place once. And the suggestion that the saving death of Jesus is something to be regretted, something that might have been avoided? Don't think so. Yes, our sins caused his death, but he went to that death willingly. We regret the sins, not the redemption.
And although I can't put my finger on it, that "nailed you up" just bothers me. Something not quite reverent there.
And now, the chorus:
Freedom can be found, laden down,
Under the weight of the wood.
Laden? Laden? If he is trying to say that we find true freedom by surrendering our freedom through acceptance of suffering, okay. But "laden" does not mean "laid"! He should have used the word "laid", slurred over the two notes of the melody, rather than adding "-en" to laid to make a non-word. OR MAYBE he was using the real word "laden" which means "weighted down with" as in "The cart was laden with bricks and lumber". But in this case, what does "Freedom can be laden down" mean? Willingly accepting the Cross in our lives is the burden that is "light" according to the gospel. Our freedom is not heavily burdened by the cross. So whichever way the lyricist is using "laden" here, it's just no good.
Nicer people than I will demur,saying I'm over analyzing this, suggesting that I concentrate on the overall message of the song. Perhaps if a child had composed this and it was read out loud at mass, I could overlook the immaturity of the language and admire the piety beneath. But the lyrics that appear in the hymnal should not make us sigh and think "it's the thought that counts." They should make it easier for us to know and love God. They should not require excuses.
Okay. I'm breathing easier and my heart rate is down a bit. I promise I'll get back to the Liturgy of the Hours next time.