A friend asked me: “What are your hymns about?” I gulped and said (very briefly) that I wasn’t a classical theist, that I believe God is experienced within each of us, as the source and power of our love, our loving, and of our ability to receive love. Christ, for me, denotes the possibilities of our life now and of our life ahead.
Between Love Is A Verb (“Don’t count on love to come flying in your window”), and A Skeptic’s Hymn (“Let religions rise and wane, love’s compassion must remain”), lie almost forty years. The former was written as a Christian protest hymn; the latter as a profession - not exclusively Christian - of faith. In between, my religious perspective has turned and turned again. Certainly I am a progressive, but that doesn’t mean my thought has progressed in any clear line. Perhaps phrases from the hymns I have composed can speak for themselves.
Born Is A Baby tries to evoke the mystery of what is called “incarnation.” (“Passion of heaven, passion of earth, given together, giving this birth/ destined for us before time began. Born is a baby: God, woman, man.”) New Born Children Of God is as biblically orthodox a hymn as I’ve written: (“All in Christ’s body, all parts of the same, led by his teaching and linked by his name.”) It was written with a guitar, up-beat tempo. And Under A Cross is as Christ-centered a hymn as I’ve conceived: (“Christ is our hope, a cross is his sign...our fears he has borne...his spirit our prize.”)
So Seeks The Mind, So Yearns The Heart reveals ambiguous feelings about creed and scripture: (“But creed gives way, as science will: one trapped in time, one never still.” And, “Yet words are born of human stock, and truth eludes a literal lock.”)
Fortunate Those Who Are Poor In Their Spirit is an open, perhaps risky, paraphasing of the Beatitudes. (“Fortunate those who are poor in their spirit, those unfulfilled in their strivings and cares,/those whose success has not stifled their longing,/ truly the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.”)
The thoughts and theology of others have influenced all of my hymns. God’s Dearest Work Of Art is an approach to prayer which I owe to James Carse. (“And when our heart lies bare, no matter when or where,/ or how the words are first addressed,/ our speaking is a prayer.”) Two Loves Have We reflects one of the major concerns of Teilhard de Chardin, and the final verse picks up some of his own words. (“The love of God our work here prod; the love of earth express our love of God.”) Likewise his thought is behind Under A Cross. (“...may we not shun its promise...may we grasp it and rise.”) We By Hope Are Saved (“...from a futile race with time,”) is an adaptation and re-working of the anthologized poem by Reinhold Niebuhr.
Somewhat recently I have tried to write hymns specifically for liturgical worship (with which I am not always comfortable). In each case I have tried to follow a different if not original approach. The traditional Sanctus is presented as Holy - God, avoiding any further allusions to the nature of diety. In the same spirit, Here Is Bread And Here Is Wine, (“food and drink we savor with delight,/ now upon this altar blessed, moving us beyond our taste and sight”) attempts to suggest, not describe or define. Finally, Once More The Advent Candles Burn focuses on Emmanuel, but not in any exclusive sense: (“But this we often fail to say: that God is with us every day./ With us and with all human kind, has been and will be through all time.”)
There are, and will be, more hymns - and more phrases to uncover. I think, however, that the above gives as full an account of my religious perspective as I or anyone can, for now, make.