Monday, February 27, 2012

Take this Hymn, please!

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.


  1. Excellent! You had me laughing out loud. As a high-church Anglo-Catholic, I've heard tales of terrible post Vatican II flights of fancy in the American Roman Catholic service (we tend to draw lots of disgruntled ex-Catholics). This post makes me think those tales are not so overblown. I am grateful for our very beautiful, traditional anglican hymns and become very unhappy when I must attend the more "contemporary" service at my church - which uses a green, cross-denominational hymnal that reminds me of Elmer Gantry. It would be a great trial to listen to the hymn you discuss! Since I gave up speaking ill of others for Lent, I got a vicarious kick out of your rant! Thank you!

  2. Talk about speaking ill of others, you should have seen my earlier draft of this piece. I was calling the lyricist all sorts of names, then remembered some of my manners.
    For most part we have good hymns here. It's just the occasional clunker like this that drives me crazy. And yes, when I hear traditional Anglican stuff, say while watching Masterpiece theater films,I am filled with holy envy.

  3. Whew! I'm so glad that I'm not the only one who's driven to distraction by inane hymn lyrics.

    And I wonder: Is anyone else bothered by hymns in which the guy-in-the-pew takes on the persona of Jesus? Sorry, but I feel uncomfortable singing the words, "I am the Bread of Life." Or do I have a problem?

  4. Not at all. Or how about the chest-thumping "We are the light of the World"? Not much humility there. And back to "I am the Bread of Life"--in recent years they decided to make it non-sexist, by changing "he who comes to me, etc" to "you who come to me,etc." So, being of a certain age, I have to stifle a chuckle every time I hear "you-who" because guess what jingle for a chocolate flavored beverage pops into my mind?

  5. Ah,
    Lenten Penance for us to bear....

  6. Hahaha!!!! I play in a folk group but that doesn't mean automatic bad music. Actually, in my group, I am known as the "Lyric Police." I go crazy at the clumsy poetry that results from "inclusive language," verses that just plain don't make sense, and boilerplate songs written by the same composer (cha-ching?)
    As to "you-who," the one that gets me with that is "On Eagle's Wings" since it starts with "you-who"--yodeled.

    1. Speaking of cha-ching, there's that guy who takes traditional hymn melodies and writes hideous, agenda-driven lyrics to them.
      Barb, when did you morph from sfo to ofs?

  7. Yes, I'm familiar with that agenda-cha-ching guy. I'm not a fan.

    About a month ago the International secular Franciscans decided that if the English-speaking world used "OFS" then we would all have the very same initials no matter where in the world we were. So we still say "Secular Franciscan Order" but our suffix is now "OFS," which follows the Latin. Takes a bit of getting used to; I have used the other initials for over 10 years.

  8. While I agree, that hymn is atrocious, I think you're being overly critical on the line about the rain. I hear (and myself use) the phrase "the rain dried up" all the time. This doesn't mean the hymn isn't cringe-worthy.

    Poor rain, though. All it does is fall and dry up. What a boring life.

  9. Okay,I'll give you that one about the rain. Still, why coulnd't he have said "dried up like the ground" which would have would have kept the whole image, well, drier?
    But it's that wine-as-food and the whole "laden" thing which really makes me gnash my teeth. Luckily, I was able to talk the organist for the 8am mass to substitute something else for me this week, so my teeth can relax after all.

    1. Hey, I'm with you on the rest of it. I'm even worse when they sing "Ashes". I was mentally prepared on Ash Wednesday, but when they sang it AGAIN on Sunday, I wasn't, and I put the hymnal away wi such emphatic disgust that I got scolded by my husband for my bad behavior.

  10. Hah, I have not had the fortune (thankfully) to hear that more plus of going to EF...
    Since you are leading singing, don't you get to chose the music for Mass?

    At parish I've attended, when they change the words of "I Am the Bread of Life," it always sounds really weird when they sing "And I raise YOUUP" It always sounds like they take a dip and end up over emphasizing the "P" in "up." Aargh.

  11. That song has been stuck in my head for several days now...thankyouverymuch ;)

    1. tee-hee-hee! (with a wicked grin on my face)
      I wrote this mainly to exorcise it from mine, and it's worked.You'll have to find a way to pass it on to someone else.

  12. Oh. My. Gosh. I'd never heard of this atrocious ditty until today. Thanks a lot! Seriously, that was a great dissection/rant. I laughed out loud, so it's a good thing I'm not in my bedroom because it's after midnight and my husband is asleep.

  13. Boo to you all! God have mercy

  14. I urge you to listen to the lyrics with your heart turned toward the Cross.

  15. We sing this during Lent at my tiny rural parish. The elderly organist is deaf, and his nearly deaf wife leads him along in a warbling soprano. There are about a dozen parishioners,all of us off key and singing at different times, a glorious noise.

  16. You put a lot of thought into making a fool of yourself. Laden down is not replacing laid down but read it as it was written, to say Freedom can be found laden (burdened) down under the Cross. As in He said "take up your cross and follow me."

  17. Wow! I just heard of the hymn today, searched for the lyrics and chose this page. I’m grieved in my heart for such callous ingratitude BUT rejoicing at the privilege to”finally” know, empirically, true rest and appreciation through the LORD Jesus Christ redemptive work, under the weight of the cross.
    I was ignorant, lost and full of gross judgements, and have not totally arrived, yet! But O, that glorious day, when I shall take my last earthly breath to go into eternity by the Grace of my Precious Jesus, putting off this fallen flesh forever! HALLELUJAH!