Wednesday, March 4, 2009

In the Garden? Out the window

Today in the history of American religion class we were talking about chapter two ("Sweet Savior") of Stephen Prothero's American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon. The chapter describes the move from the wrathful Calvinist God of the 18th century to the loving evangelical Jesus of the 19th.

Near the end of the chapter, Prothero quotes the first verse and chorus of "In the Garden," the hymn that perhaps best represents this new view of Jesus:

I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

"How many of you know this song?" I asked the students. There were 22 or 23 in the room; four raised their hands.

It's not that they're a bunch of heathens. I suspect the great majority go to church, or did until recently, on a pretty regular basis. And most of them, I suspect, are mainstream Protestants, the kind of people who would have heard this song often just a couple of decades ago.

I threw out the names of a few other hymns--"Softly and Tenderly, Jesus Is Calling," "O for a Thousand Tongues To Sing," "Jesus, Lover of My Soul," "Shall We Gather at the River," "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," "How Firm a Foundation"--always about four hands, the same small bunch of students. I didn't ask about "Amazing Grace."

How can one teach late 19th-/early 20th-century revivalism without "Softly and Tenderly"?

Fortunately there's NetHymnal, with over 10,000 hymns--not just lyrics, but tunes (midis) and brief sketches of the song writers.

I do love Prothero's book, though.