I have been thinking with great affection lately of the hymns that I sang as a child. My youngest is just beginning to learn the great hymnody which school impresses on the primary age mind and heart, and as he bellows out “All things bright and beautiful” it leads me to wonder whether I chose hymns that reflect my spirituality, or whether my spirituality was formed under their influence? Would I have been a different sort of Christian if I had sung different hymns?
We went swimming weekly in junior school, and as I was often ill, I would stay behind alone or with 2 or 3 others. To entertain us, the teacher would teach us hymns, and help us understand their meanings. I remember well the revelation that in “Lord of all hopefulness” balm did not mean the same as barmy! I loved the universalism of “In Christ there is no east nor west”, and the romantic valiance of the knight who won his spurs in stories of old. For many childhood years, I was that knight, gallant and brave, noble and true (though perhaps less strong on the gentle part!).
Of all the hymns that I loved as a child, it was “He who would valiant be” and “O Jesus I have promised” that really stirred me and made my eyes shine. To be honest they still do. If you know me, then you’ll know that these hymns epitomise my ideals of faith – hard work, honesty, truth, loyalty and courage. Did these hymns choose me, already a conscientious child, or did I choose them and model my life around them?
We need to be careful about the diet of hymnody we offer children. Whether they choose me or I chose them, those childhood hymns are an integral part of my adult faith. We must not dumb our faith down in our sung worship, and leave future adults bereft of hymnody which feeds the soul, inspires the heart, and challenges the mind.