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Cervantes and Praise Songs

In Rants on November 1, 2015 at 4:25 am

Praise 1

I find it difficult to praise Him, while singing Hillsong’s “Praise Him.”

I’m reading Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel De Cervantes. I came across the passage today where the Cannon discusses the inferiority of the popular books of chivalry whose authors write “without paying any attention to good taste or the rules of art.”

I’m not sure if the views expressed by the canon are those of Cervantes, but they are close to mine when it comes to much of Christian art, particularly that branch that gives us the songs we sing in church each week.

In this passage from Don Quixote, the canon is speaking of drama, but his comments apply to all art forms, I think, including praise and worship lyrics.  I have made some changes, that I am sure Cervantes would not object to.

The praise songs ” that are now in vogue . . . are, all or most of them, downright nonsense and things that have neither head nor tail, and yet the public listens to them with delight, and regards and cries them up as perfection when they are so far from it . . . . the [lyricists] who write them, and the [worship leaders] who [perform] them, say that this is what they must be, for [congregations] wants this and will have nothing else. . . .

Apparently there is no point to “go by rule and work out [lyrics] according to the laws of art” because these “will only find some half-dozen intelligent people to understand them, while all the rest remain blind to the merit of their composition. I have sometimes endeavoured to convince [worship leaders] that they are mistaken in this notion they have adopted, and that they would attract more people, and get more credit, by [writing praise songs] in accordance with the rules of art, than by absurd ones, they are so thoroughly wedded to their own opinion that no argument or evidence can wean them from it.

“I remember saying one day to one of these obstinate fellows, ‘Tell me, do you not recollect that a few years ago, there were three [songs sung in the churches] of these kingdoms, which were such that they filled all who heard them with admiration, delight, and interest, the ignorant as well as the wise, the masses as well as the higher orders?'”

“‘No doubt,’ replied the [worship leader] in question, ‘you mean the “Blessed Be Your Name,” the “10 000 Reasons,” and “Revelation Song.”‘

“‘Those are the ones I mean,’ said I; ‘and see if they did not observe the principles of art, and if, by observing them, they failed to show their superiority and please all the world; so that the fault does not lie with the public that insists upon nonsense, but with those who don’t know how to [write] something else.”

The song that inspired this post is Hillsong United’s “Praise Him.”  I’m not qualified to judge this song musically, but I think I know a formula when I see it–it has that progression that almost all of the popular praise songs have these days. My problem with this song is the lyrics are so general.  I will commend its writers that the clichés they employ are at least on the same subject, but they aren’t really about anything except there’s lots of praising going on.  There is nothing in the lyrics that engage either the mind or the imagination. Without this engagement, even if the music is really excellent, the experience is, at best, merely emotional.  Under these conditions, my worship experience is about as meaningful as watching clothes tumble in the dryer.

I believe that we should bring God our best–not just our best music, but our best everything–this includes our lyrics.

I leave you with just a few lines of Josh Garrels’ song “Colors” which are about praising Him.

So let all the creatures sing
Praises over everything
Colors are meant to bring
Glory to the light

  1. After trying for years to “plug in” to worship songs like the one you mention I’ve finally been able to let go of this sort of trying and lapse into a silent prayer.

    Here is something to clean your palate.

    Praise the Lord

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYvw7jm-lsw

    • That is a beautiful piece, Josiah. Thank you for that palate cleanser (I listened to it twice). I have moved to meditation and silent prayer during these worship songs, but I have not, yet, fully let go. I am, perhaps, an idealist, but I can’t help but think that the songwriters will hear this plea somewhere, from someone and will begin to write music and lyrics that are creative and imaginative, that employ the full power of language to help worshipers to catch a glimpse of the glory and mystery of Him who is worthy of our praise. Worshipers, I must point out, are an integrated whole composed of heart, mind, soul and strength–it is a faulty anthropology that seeks to evoke only feelings–we can do better.

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