Singing in The First Person


Source: blueoconnellsmusicaladventures.

The gist of the following article seems interesting to me:


‘(…) One of the distinctive marks of Pentecostal worship isn’t just the style of music but also the prominence of the first person singular. In mainline Protestant worship, the prevailing trend has been to replace the worshipping “I” with the communal “we.” The “I believe” of the creed is changed to “we believe.” The newer hymns are all about “our” needs, “our” lives, “our” relationship to God and one another. When older choruses are sung, the pronouns are often updated to reflect the plural preference. I have been in a service where the deeply personal Geoff Bullock song, “The Power of Your Love,” was amended, from:

Lord, I come to You
Let my heart be changed, renewed
Flowing from the grace that I’ve found in You
And Lord I’ve come to know
The weaknesses I see in me
Will be stripped away
By the power of Your love.

To:

Lord, we come to You
Let our hearts be changed, renewed
Flowing from the grace that we found in You
And Lord we’ve come to know
The weaknesses we see in us
Will be stripped away
By the power of Your love.

Now in principle there’s nothing wrong with either “I” or “we” as far as singing to God is concerned. And the good Lord is probably long-suffering enough to figure out what we mean when we sing a line as daft as “the weaknesses we see in us.” Let’s face it, where hymnody is concerned, the Christian church will only be saved (if it is saved at all) as though through fire.

But I’m sceptical of the assumption that “we” is somehow the more Liturgically Correct word to use – as if the believers who turn up to church on Sunday morning cannot be trusted to remember that they are worshipping in a community. The whole thing smacks (if you’ll pardon the dirty language) of socialism. Are the clergy anxious to make us ever-mindful of our communal loyalties, as if they knew deep down that we would all rather be worshipping on our own at home?

Interestingly, St Augustine’s view of the worshipping “I” was exactly the opposite. In his exposition of Psalm 121, Augustine argued that the “I” is the proper symbol of corporate worship, while the “we” is too individualistic:

Let [the psalmist] sing from the heart of each one of you like a single person. Indeed, let each of you be this one person. Each one prays the psalm individually, but because you are all one in Christ, it is the voice of a single person that is heard in the psalm [Cum enim dicitis illud singuli, quia omnes unum estis in Christo, unus homo illud dicit]. That is why you do not say, ‘To you, Lord, have we lifted up our eyes,’ but ‘To you, Lord, I have lifted up my eyes.’ Certainly you must think of this as a prayer offered by each of you on his or her own account, but even more you should think of it as the prayer of the one person present throughout the whole world. (Expositions of the Psalms, 122.2).

Augustine’s point is that the language of “we” can easily give the impression that the congregation is a collection of atomistic individuals. But when believers sing to God in the first-person singular, it is as if the whole body of Christ were crying to God with one voice. The “I” is intensely personal: I sing as if the song applied to me alone. But it is also mystical and communal: beneath and above and around my own individual “I,” I hear the surge of a greater voice, a corporate “I” of which my own voice is a part. In Augustine’s view, this corporate voice is the voice of Christ. It is Christ himself who sings the psalms and who cries out to God in one voice from one body through the Spirit.

(…)’

Source: Ben Myers, ‘Singing in the first person: on “I” and “we” in worship’ (faith-theology).

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