Your love, O God, is broad like beach and meadow,
Wide as the wind, and our eternal home.
You leave us free to seek you or reject you,
And give us room to answer “yes” or “no.”
We long for freedom where our truest being
Is given hope and courage to unfold.
We seek in freedom space and scope for dreaming,
And look for ground, where trees and plants can grow
But there are walls that keep us all divided;
We fence each other in with hate and war.
Fear is the bricks and mortar of our prison,
Our pride of self, the prison coat we wear.
O judge us, Lord, and in your judgment free us,
And set our feet in freedom’s open space;
Take us as far as your compassion wanders
Among the children of the human race.
Anders Fronstenson 1968 (trans. Fred Kaan 1972)
The United Methodist Hymnal helpfully divides its hymns into sections by theme. This little number, “Your Love, O God,” is to be found in the section “God’s Nature.” My first impression was that, aside from the first verse, the subject is our nature, not God’s.
Since I was musing on RMJ’s post concerning doing and being during choir, rather than paying attention to the dynamics and key signature as I should have been (mea culpa), this hymn for Sunday grabbed my attention and never let go.
What if is about being? RMJ asks. In this summer of love hymn, we seek freedom to find our truest being. God, being the vague, hands off wideness that God is, supports this by freeing us to find our way, always in God’s love. But we must live and “be” with each other, and, as the third stanza reiterates, that’s not easy because our nature is to fear.
Is our “truest being” to fear? I doubt it. My inclination is to say that fear is representative of our natures, not our being. But what distinguishes our “being” from our “nature.” Or is there even a distinction? I have to ask what is “being” and does it just exist, or does it manifest? And if it manifests, can we know it as our “being,” and how do we know?
RMJ is right, ontology and epistemology overlap like ferrets napping on the sofa. Where does one begin and the other end? I ask the same question about theology and praxis. Ideally, they shouldn’t be seen as discrete units.
For example, this is a hymn about the human condition and the role God plays in letting us experience it and lifting us out of it. From our experience of God, we come to some conclusions about the nature of God, albeit some rather vague ones. It takes a stab at theology. Good enough.
But in a worship service, this hymn plays a role. Specifically, it acts, in this case, as an opening hymn- to set the mood and theme. If planned with intentionality, and good pastors plan every aspect of a worship service with intentionality, it links in some way with the scripture and the sermon, as well as with any other liturgy that might be occurring, such as communion or a baptism. An opening hymn provides a background from which to experience a service. It sets a context, not in a restrictive way, but in a thematic way. Sometimes it connects a great deal with the main message of a service, sometimes only in a general way. The point, however, isn’t to set up a framework on which to hang every aspect of worship (although some pastors do this), but to provide a multitude of means by which the individual members of the congregation can experience the “Good News.”
Worship is undoubtedly praxis. Liturgy comes from the Greek composite word, leitourgia (laos-people, ergo-to do, to work) originally meaning a public duty undertaken by a citizen. In the Jewish religious context it came to refer to temple ritual publicly performed by a priest. In the later Christian tradition, it came to mean an act of public worship which in which a group participated. In other words, Compline was liturgy, the Rosary was not.
Yet, in the acting of the people in worship, there is always the presumption that the people are being acted upon as well. The method in the worship planning madness is to attempt to provide an outlet in which a person’s being is touched by the presence of God. Perhaps that means conveying a new understanding or comprehension of God in an epistemological sense. Maybe it brings you to a place where your "being" is redefined by God's presence in an ontological way. If that is accomplished through traditional ritual, so be it. If that occurs in the course of a brilliant sermon delivered by yours truly, well good on you. If a hymn or prayer brings you to a new place of wonder and joy, excellent. You have worked and been worked on. Theology in praxis, theology through praxis, theology as the foundation of praxis. There doesn't need to be an either/or.
I'm sure there is much more to be said about this.