For the Love of Jesus: Forgive a musicologist’s rant
February 20, 2013 1 Comment
(Please note: a funny thing sometimes happens when you write. I intended for this to be sarcastic and negative. A friend read it and thought I am somehow thanking the church and its homoerotic music. So now I’m not sure. Is that bad writing or ambiguity on a remarkable scale? Dunno. I trace the “rainbow” through the rain . . .)
Pope Benedict will live at the Vatican—perhaps never leave there. The sovereign state will offer him refuge from prosecution by any country for participation in child sex abuse cover-ups. The old guy has some right not to end up in jail somewhere for his part in the hideous scandals of the church. But really now, as an American I firmly belief no one is above the law.
When I was four or five years old (we lived in Worland, Wyoming), my dad went off to Boston for the annual meeting of the American Baptist Convention. To entertain us while he was away, we had a large and complicated picture jigsaw puzzle to work on. Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler (painting by Heinrich Hoffmann). I’ll be the first to admit I missed the point. But look at the hand-on-the-hip pose of the pretty young man. What a gay blade! He’s haunted my imagination since about 1949. And that hat! To die for.
On Valentine’s Day I blogged about learning hymn tunes when I was a kid. One of my favorites my dad never used in the service. He did not like it. He told me so when I suggested we should sing it. I liked it partly because it was so easy to play (key of A-flat with close voice leading so kid’s hands could reach all the notes). He objected to the tune (perfectly banal) as much as the words.
“O Love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee.” I’m not saying the hymns we sang in church had anything to do with my being a gay boy. But they certainly gave me words to go with what I was feeling, as those paintings gave me images.
Another favorite hymn tune was “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.” It may, in fact have been the first hymn tune I ever played. F-major. Tonic, sub-dominant, dominant, tonic. A first-week harmony exercise in a first-year theory class. But the words! “Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly.” With the Rich Young Ruler, no doubt. And I won’t even mention coming to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses, and he tells me I am his own.
You think I’m making this up, don’t you? “O love that wilt not let me go” has been in some pretty important Protestant hymnals**.
I began thinking about all of this because of a picture a friend posted on Facebook. (She did not post it because she loved it!) I’m not sure if it’s a joke. My friend says it’s being passed around by pastors. What that could mean, I don’t know. All I know is it fits right in with love that wilt not let me go. We didn’t revere the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Baptist church, but we did sing about the lover of my soul.
My Come Hither Eyes?
I just want to raise the question of how mixed a message this is from people who say God and Jesus hate gays. We gay boys were pretty confused. At least I was. Nothing profound or new here. Just saying. I hope Mr. Justice Scalia and Pope Benedict are listening.
**The Baptist Hymnal. Nashville, TN: Convention Press, 1991 (292).
Christian Worship, a Hymnal. Valley Forge, PA: The Judson Press, 1941 (388).
The Lutheran Book of Worship. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1978 (324).
Service Book and Hymnal. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1958 (402).
O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.