The old ways we are to seek and walk in must be sought not only because we have lost those ways (though we have), but also because they are, to our inattentive and darkened attention, not obvious to us. They are, as the word implies, hidden, and, once lost sight of, must be sought to be regained.Read More
Filtering by Category: Reliquarium
Reliquarium: Hymns for the World filming in Nashville at Ocean Way Studio.Read More
by Kemper Crabb
My father asked me to make an album of hymns. He wanted me to do this as a benefit for his missionary ministry, Servants of the King. While I was thrilled to do an album to benefit SOTK, I was reluctant to do an album of hymns.
“Dad,” I told him, ”the world needs another hymns record like it needs a hole in the head. There are tons of great hymns albums available out there.” (Not least of which in this category is the finest hymns album of all, Hymns,
by Craig Smith, produced and arranged by my friend Paul Mills, which can be procured at http://www.craigsmithmusic.co/hymns. No funds were given for this endorsement, by the bye; it’s just a great recording…). My father, unimpressed by my patently true argument, still wanted me to make an hymn project.
After some thought (I love my father, and hate to disappoint him), I told him that I would do so, if I could arrange the hymns any way I wanted to, though I assured him that I wouldn’t alter the lyrics or melodies, which I recognize as having stood the test of time, recognized across the centuries and decades as excellent, memorable, and orthodox in doctrine (at least, the ones still regularly used in the churches today), and therefore, in terms of lyrics and melody, sacrosanct. He replied that he didn’t care how I arranged them, he just wanted me to do it. So I did.
What partially motivated me in this endeavor was the fact that the transmission of ideas which give rise to cultures across time is a formative bridge, moving from the past through the present to the future, carrying forward the most central and magnificent concepts and artifacts embodying those cultures. This concept should be welcome and familiar to Christians, whose faith is based upon the historical actions of God Himself, enscripturated in the Bible by the Spirit’s inspiration, the testimony to which has been believed and taught by the church from centuries past (2 Tim. 3: 16-17; 2 Peter 1: 21).
Yet even the greatest of ideas loses its urgency eventually. The most influential and beautiful art gradually passes into obscurity through sheer familiarity. The passage of time assures that even the most vital things are finally taken for granted, even though the influences which shape a culture over time, whether idea or artifact, are based upon those which preceded them in a society’s formation. Every generation must learn its past anew.
This is why Christians have attempted across the ages to heed the admonition of St. Paul to Timothy: “ Stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Tim. 2: 15). In an attempt to faithfully obey that principle, my mission is the retrieval of the most vital music of our past, a revisitation and re-rendering of musical pieces from the formative core of Western culture, the songs which helped form us as a people, and yet have disappeared from conscious memory, though they have influenced the music and history which have produced our place in time.
Since most of these songs were dominated by the language, belief, and worship-patterns of Christianity, such a recovery can only help our increasingly post-Christian society to remember (or realize for the first time) that Christianity was the dominant force which produced, in its interaction with, and reorientation of Europe’s inherited Classical heritage and Germanic cultures, the laws, institutions, societal concepts, and art of the Western world.
However, a brute retrieval of these songs is not enough. As Geoffrey of Vinsauf wrote in Poetria Nova, his 13th Century book on the art of rhetoric:
“Permit an old word to regain its youth by giving it a home
in another situation where it can be a novel guest, giving
pleasure by its strangeness.”
Those vital things of the faith which have been allowed to sink into obscurity must be resurrected, though in a fashion which renders them accessible and attractive to an age which has forgotten them and the concepts they embody.
This is why the ancient music must be presented as a fusion of its original form with the musical styles of the present, especially since the original form helped give birth to the music we enjoy today. Such a fusion compels attention by an amalgamation of the musical approaches which please modern sensibilities while simultaneously revealing the beauty of the ancient source with all its essential quiddity preserved. Such a juxtaposition renders the original beauty of the piece “strange,” a combination which refocuses contemporary attention (by virtue of interest in its unusual or “strange” rendering), but which still communicates the power and force of the original music.
This technique (normally called “defamiliarization” by literary theorists) has been successfully utilized by writers such as C. S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton, architects such as Antonio Gaudi, and painters such as Hieronymous Bosch and Vincent Van Gogh. Lewis, Tolkien, Chesterton, and Gaudi were all utilizing this technique specifically to refamiliarize and re-present Christian concepts and forms to modern society.
Such a presentation can be greatly enhanced by accompanying commentary concerning the inherently Christian cultural and historical background which gave rise to the original songs and infused them with lasting, even eternal importance.
What is to be gained from such an endeavor? Aside from the nascent beauty of the ancient music, it must be remembered that the beliefs embedded in these songs helped shape the culture we inhabit, with our values and concepts, both musical and otherwise, especially since many of these songs continue to be utilized in churches across America and Europe to this day. A conscious retrieval of all that this music represents and has to offer can enable us to more intelligently discern how our culture has come to the point at which it has arrived, and to inform us as to where it is (and should) be going. As the maxim so wisely states, “A tree is only as strong as its roots.” We cannot know where we’re going unless we know where we’ve been as a people, and, in a culture which has become estranged from and forgotten the Faith which gave birth to it, the recovery of Christianity is imperative.
The reintroduction of these songs, surrounded by commentary on their historical origins and cultural meaning, can go a long way toward arousing interest in Christianity by way of enlightened self-interest, as there is presently a great curiosity in America as to what formed us as a people and culture. The beauty of the songs, coupled with teaching explaining how they helped form the development of our values and beliefs, should function as an apologetic refuting current post-Christian doubts that Christianity is effective in the production of works of lasting beauty, as well as demonstrating that the Christian ideas transmitted in the ancient music were not only central in the formation of the Western culture of the past, but that those ideas remain relevant and vital to future cultural development.
My goal is thus to give “pleasure by strangeness,” to arrest the attention of our culture by the mixed beauty of this music, and thereby help us see where we’ve been, and aid us in calculating where we are going.
This is even more important as current technology rapidly advances a truly global culture, and the West, in its cultural melding and exchange with the global South and East, seeks to offer and receive the most helpful elements inherent in each of the participant societies, to the betterment of all the Earth’s peoples. This continues apace as an historical fulfillment of the Scriptures’ prophecies that God will redeem “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9), “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues” (Rev. 7:9), who will contribute their languages, cultures, and art to Christ’s Kingdom.
In celebration of this ongoing exchange, I have sought to utilize the instruments and modes of the cultures of both East and West, signifying the growing influence of all the Earth’s cultures upon each other, and in anticipation of Christ’s impact upon all the earth’s cultures. My latest project, Reliquarium, is a prime example of my efforts along these lines.
By Kemper Crabb
Christians have always seen parts of the Creation as symbols of God. Well they should, since the Bible teaches that this was one of the reasons God made the world: to reveal Himself to men.(On Reliquarium: Part Two)We can see this in places like Romans 1:18-20 -
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…
and Psalm 19:1-4 –
1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world…
A realization that God has made the things that exist precisely in order to symbolize and reveal Himself causes believers to see the world differently, and parts of the world, especially parts that are important to their faith, become loci of devotion, things whose very existence act as reminders of, and engagements with, the Presence of God.
In the Middle Ages in Europe, especially since most people were illiterate, relics (articles of clothing or other possessions, or even the remains of those of holy life who had died in the Faith) became such focuses of devotion, reminders that God was real and worked in the lives of believers not just in the long-ago Biblical times, but also in the present life and ongoing experiences of Christians still living.
These relics were frequently kept in caskets or containers known as reliquaries, to preserve and simultaneously reveal these relics to believers across time.
With the advent of the Reformation, however, came a change in attitude amongst the Protestants in reaction to what they considered to be a far-too-deeply-developed devotion to these objects, and they deliberately distanced themselves from what they saw as a form of devotion that was an intrinsic part of what they were seeking to reform (Reformation, right?).
People being what they are, however, and the world being exactly what Scripture says it is, that vacuum of secondary objects of devotion was soon filled with creations more suited to the aims and goals of the Reformation: hymns.
In the Medieval Church, the laity, the non-clerical worshippers, didn’t sing in the services in church. That was a task done by either clerics (priests or monks or other ordained ministers) or by other specially-trained lesser clerics. The people simply listened.
Part of the reform wrought by the Protestants was a restoration of worship in song by the congregation as well as the ministers and choir. The Reformation brought a spate of composing hymnists who labored to write songs suited for congregational worship, hymns which both celebrated God and His Works and which also taught Biblical doctrine in forms both accessible to worshippers in their native tongues (prior to this, all songs were in Latin, which very few understood) and which were memorable melodically and lyrically.
These were songs even the illiterate could learn and utilize themselves in God’s worship (though the Reformers labored mightily to educate their people to read, as well). As ongoing, regular elements of believer’s worship, elements which allowed them to become integral parts of public worship, these hymns themselves soon became objects through which the Protestants could focus their devotion, and the hymns filled the space in life formerly occupied by relics.
The hymns were, for Protestant believers, the new relics, new, highly accessible portals and foci through which their devotion and worship of God could be evoked and poured.
In light of all this, it occurred to me that a collection of such post-Reformation hymns would itself be a kind of reliquary, a reliquary of hymns. In Latin, the word is reliquarium. This is the origin of the title of my collection of performed hymns: Reliquarium.
by Kemper Crabb
History is a corkscrew: a spiral, really. It seems like it moves forward in a line (and it does, sort of), but really it has these ups and downs, these punctuated rhythms which are like counter-steps in a complicated circle-dance. The history of the Church is not only not immune to this, but in many ways is actually paradigmatic for everyone's ongoing history, Christian or not, encompassing individuals, families, nations, cultures, etc. And culture is what I'm primarily thinking of and addressing here.
Having been a musician all my life (and a minister for most of that time), I've been much involved with the music of the Church (especially its worship music). Those who are familiar with my recordings and live performances either associate me with rock and pop music (ArkAngel, Hope of Glory, Atomic Opera, RadioHalo, Caedmon's Call) or with Early music and folk (the Vigil, A Medieval Christmas, Downe In Yon Forrest), and, considering my musical output, that's easily understandable. I was involved in the first wave of what became CCM music (which didn't really exist when we started during the Jesus Movement around 1970), and, because of that, I've always been involved with contemporary worship music, and still am. But I grew up singing hymns.
From the earliest times I remember, I sang hymns in worship services, especially after I embraced Christ as my Savior at 11 years of age. The hymns, of course, took on deep experiential and emotional roots within my awareness after my conversion. As I grew older, I learned a good deal about the hymnists who composed these songs which dominated my youth. I was especially impressed with the lives of four of them:
-Fanny Crosby, blinded accidentally soon after her birth, nonetheless became the most prolific hymnist who's ever lived, becoming a skilled multi-instrumentalist (including guitar, a very unusual instrument for a woman of her time), a friend to presidents, the first woman ever to address the United States Senate, and much more.
-Charles Wesley, brother to John Wesley, and one of the progenitors of the First Great Awakening, was subjected to continued ecclesiastical persecution and physical threats following his conversion and commitment to public preaching, began to write hundreds of hymns of elegance and eloquent theological poetry.
-Charlotte Eliot, a member of the Clapham Sect, William Wilberforce's Evangelical group committed to Biblical social change, contracted a mysterious debilitating disease which forced her to lead much of her life as a semi-invalid, but led her to pen some of the most beloved hymns in the English language.
-George Whitfield suffered enervating depression all of his life, attempting suicide multiple times, yet rose to become one of his time's most respected poets (even considered for the post of poet-laureate of England) and developed a close friendship with John Newton, publishing with him some of the greatest hymns ever penned.
All of these men and women faced tremendous challenges and yet mastered and utilized to great effect the artistic expressions of their time to provide a medium of common and participatory faith which worshippers ever since have used in worship.
As I began to write worship songs myself, I gradually became more and more interested in how these various hymnists approached composing their songs, and realized that, though they self-consciously embraced the contemporary lyrical and instrumental forms of their day, they were also deeply informed by the musical traditions of the Church in the centuries before them. This led me to realize that, just as they were informed by past musical practices to compose their songs, so was I, and, further, that all the musical practices of our current culture bore the influences (pro or con) of the ubiquitous worship songs of the hymnists who came before.
It saddened me, in the years that have followed this realization, that the great hymns of the past, once so universally known, were gradually being marginalized by newer songs, as the older hymns, which began to be seen as spiritually moribund and musically non-relevant, increasingly became unknown to younger believers, and lost to the culture at large, despite the fact that the influence of these hymns still undergirded that same culture.
I determined that arranging these hymns in more contemporary forms would revive interest by showing their intrinsic excellence in a newly refurbished light. In addition, the lives, challenges, and triumphs of these hymnists need to be made known to Christians today, as a context for their songs. And, with Reliquarium, I began to do so, and am now involved in writing, teaching, and filming the results of these efforts, and have invited you, my friends old and new, to take part in this ongoing retrieval of our common Christian heritage.