Monday, August 10, 2015

THE JUKEBOX HERO HYMNAL: Hymn 027: If It Be Your Will by Leonard Cohen

I usually don’t engage in too much Twitter snark regarding religious matters, but today I just couldn’t stop myself. I walk in to church, kneel for a little prayer before mass, and I hear the choir (yes, they ALWAYS perform a few songs before the service gets started) dutifully singing out these lyrics…

“I myself am the bread of life. We are the bread of life. Taken and blessed, broken and shared by Christ, that the world might live. Here is God's kingdom,  given to us as food. This is our body. This is our blood. Living sign of God in Christ.”

I had (mercifully) never heard this song before, but those lyrics just really rubbed me the wrong way, compelling me to take to Twitter and post…

“I go to mass because God is the one worthy of praise & worship. Choir warbles out something called ‘I Myself Am The Bread Of Life.’ Um , no.”

Look, I’m a Catholic, so by default I’m accustomed to poorly written modern hymns that are nigh impossible to sing along with if you were born with testicles. And you know what, that’s fine. As long as the lyrical content is faithful to the teachings of the Church and keeps the focus on the Lord rather the singers, I’m sure God doesn’t mark off too many points for dubious melodic structure, so I’m not going to either.

Heck, I’ll even be charitable and take a guess that it probably wasn’t the intention of the person who wrote I Myself Am The Bread Of Life to be anything less than faithful. On reflection, I’m pretty sure he was just trying to express the sentiment that we find in the Catechism where, riffing on St. Augustine, it explains…

“Those who receive the Eucharist are united more closely to Christ. Through it Christ unites them to all the faithful in one body—the Church. Communion renews, strengthens, and deepens this incorporation into the Church, already achieved by Baptism. In Baptism we have been called to form but one body. The Eucharist fulfills this call: ‘The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread:’

I get it, I do. By participating in the body and blood of Christ, we can, in a certain sense, become the presence of Christ in this world, we can be the hands and feet of the Lord bringing his hope and salvation to those who need it. But the lyrics of I Myself Am The Bread Of Life just seems to push it a little to far and basically suggest that we are, in fact, Jesus. Purposely or not, the song ends up celebrating the people who are doing the singing, not the one they’re supposed to be singing about. So again, um, no.

Hey, you know who can write a good, faithful hymn that keeps the Lord as its focus? Leonard Cohen. Yeah, the traditional Jew turned Buddhist monk, that Leonard Cohen. Take the lyrics of If It Be Your Will, for example…

“If it be your will, that a voice be true, from this broken hill, I will sing to you. From this broken hill, all your praises they shall ring, if it be your will, to let me sing. From this broken hill, all your praises they shall ring, if it be your will, to let me sing.”

Yep, no ambiguity about who the focus is in that song. Catholic hymn writers please take note.

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