Items related to the navigation of hymns.
The spiritual and cultural music of my growing up years embedded itself in my bones. It’s the soundtrack to my identity; it vibrates with a familiarity and a warmth that’s more centered in my body than in my consciousness. We don’t navigate elements of culture when we are young, we simply ride them, afloat on the shared experiences that define our selves, our families, our communities. We absorb the crests and troughs of these journeys into our bodies.
After a couple of decades of spiritual wanderings, theological disillusionment, and religious trauma, I often find myself stretched into a dramatic tension between the warmth of deeply familiar hymns—their rhythms, melodies, harmonies, and lyrical elements—and frustration and sadness with particular phrases, interpretations, associations and whole songs. So much in what we used to sing now conflicts with my sense of self as a spiritual being in the universe. I’ve sometimes been visiting in churches, singing by heart hymns that feel like home, only to be stung by a phrase or idea as if I had never heard it before despite having sung the song thousands of times. I’ve mostly pulled back in self-protection from these old friends.
It’s been a deep loss.
My work on the Hymnautica album has been a sort of therapy for me. I’ve been reclaiming elements of the body of hymns that shaped my childhood and much of my adulthood as well. I’m no longer passively “afloat” on these hymns though, I’m mindfully navigating them. That sometimes involves a sort of reframing—seeing their messages and significance in new and even alternative ways. Navigating means avoiding territories I know to be filled with manipulative currents or treacherous waves, but it also means reclaiming for myself—in my own ways—the elements of these childhood journeys that still sooth, still speak with wisdom, love and compassion, or still express lament that needs to be voiced.
This is a very personal album, though I’ve written none of the songs included. Each one I’ve known for as long as I can remember. Much of contemporary American Christianity has shifted focus in ways I can’t espouse and be a healthy and loving human being. Perhaps it’s always been that way and I’ve only recently gained experience enough to see it. Whatever the case, I’ve decided not to allow the failures of organized religion to steal from me the warmth and beauty this music has always provided. It has required fresh eyes and ears and a steady hand on the rudder, but I now am growing a new and conscious appreciation of the contours of these hymns… and of myself inside their stories.
01 All the Way My Savior Leads Me
by Fanny Crosby (1875)
02 O Sacred Head
by P. Gerhardt, tr. J. Alexander (1829)
03 In the Garden
by C. Austin Miles (1913)
04 When Peace Like a River
by Horatio Gates Spafford (1873)
05 The Lord’s My Shepherd
by Francis Rous (1650)
06 We’ll Understand It All By and By
by W. B. Stevens (1911)
07 The Voice of Jesus
by Horatius Bonar (1846)
08 Take My Life
by Francis Ridley Havergal (1874)
09 Abide with Me
by Henry Francis Lyte (1847)
10 God Be with You ‘til We Meet Again
by Jeremiah Eames Rankin (1880)