Monday, May 19, 2008

"In the beauty of the lilies ..."

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

From Battle Hymn of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe, 1862

Yes, your eyes do not deceive you--that's a verse from a hymn/patriotic anthem cluttering up the front page of this freethinking Neopagan anarchist perfume blog. What gives? Well, I heard the song somewhere recently, I can't even remember where, and it's been running through my head for days. That particular verse was once very important to me.

As some of you know, I wasn't born into my present cultural niche. My pedigree is 100% Tennesse redneck. I'm a preacher's granddaughter, raised in the Church of the Nazarene, and I clocked a lot of childhood hours listening to sermons, not to mention all the time spent in Sunday school and at tent revivals. And I sang a lot of hymns. Battle Hymn of the Republic wasn't sung during services, but it was a big favorite whenever the kids were corralled into singing at vacation Bible school, church camp, etc. It's an easy tune to carry, and the violence appeals to children. (Click here to read the complete lyrics.)

Not surprisingly, we generally sang only the first, second and fourth verses. The third verse, along with the final verse above, are a little too overtly abolitionist. Talk of liberation was not welcome in Nazarene churches back when Jim Crow was in his death throes. I doubt it's any more welcome now. But I didn't understand that at the time, at least not with any clarity. I loved the "lilies verse," and it baffled me that we never sang it. All the judgment and swordplay in the other verses distressed me, while the image of Jesus born among the flowers was beautiful. And dying for freedom seemed like the best death you could have, since death was inevitable. The connection between beauty and freedom in the words stirred me deeply. I loved them so much that I would sometimes sing them sotto voce while everyone else was singing about sifting out the hearts of men.

Remembering that little rebellion gives me a lot of hope. There was nobody whispering subversive ideas in my ear, nobody telling me to question the rigid, fearful, hateful view of life that I was being taught. There was just an instinct within me that led in another direction and I followed it--as so many people do. That's what gives me hope, the realization that there's a commonplace impulse toward liberty, and it routinely survives attempts to suppress it. There have been times these last few years that I've despaired when I thought of all the kids being raised on the venom that spews from the pulpits of megachurches, and the way they're indoctrinated with the fear and bigotry of the "War on Terror." How stupid of me. There have to be millions of children who feel the same way I did as a kid, knowing--without any help from anyone--that there's a better way. I wonder what they're singing?


Perfumeshrine said...

Well, it figures! Just like Nietzsche, you're the kin of churchpeople. No wonder, I say, no wonder!


I do believe, like you, that there is something called an autonomous rebeliousness in every teenager: if only it doesn't get drowned by fake dreams of glitter and status...

Mary said...

I love that imagery too. My favorite part is the beginning...'trampling out the vintage'. Poetically, that line kicks ass. It's a great song altogether. I love Joan Baez' cover.

Whodat said...

I guess some of us are just born bad, Gracie. :o)

BitterGrace said...

But I have fake dreams of glitter and status, too, E! ;-) Seriously, I do think the churchy upbringing shaped me in a lot of ways, not all of them bad.

It is a great song, Mary. I can't remember what the Baez version is like--off to iTunes...

What did you sing in church, R?

Whodat said...

I never felt a rigid and hateful view was being imposed upon me. I liked church except that it was sometimes boring and I felt we spent too many hours there. But then again, I have an automatic "off" switch to anything I don't want to hear, and I always had it. I got the "God is Love" and "goodness and mercy" side of Christianity. I also managed somehow to get that I was fully responsible for my own actions and so was each person fully responsible for theirs, so to the extent anyone preached ignorant, hateful thoughts, I just rejected it for myself, because I was raised to think it was my right, and to an extent, my duty, to reject it. I liked to sing and often sang in the choir. I hope there are still some churches like the ones I grew up in. Didn't you sing "For The Beauty Of The Earth" or "Whispering Hope" or "How Great Thou Art"?

BitterGrace said...

I think there are still churches that have the good aspects of the ones we grew up in, though the infection of politics has spread pretty far in the church world. The pastor in my childhood church was actually a very sweet, enlightened person, and so was his wife. My grandfather's brand of faith was pretty fiery, but he was not ignorant or hateful. Still, I just could never get past the ugly side of Yahweh, and Jesus was a kind of a mixed bag, too. There just seemed to me to be a fundamental element of "power over" within Christianity, and I have some sort of inborn allergy to authority. Of the hymns you mention, the only one we sang was "How Great Thou Art," and I couldn't stand it because it was such a paean to authority. I did like "In the Garden" a lot:

He speaks and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing

Whodat said...

and He walks with me
and He talks with me
and He tells me that I am his own...

I'm so sentimentally attached, I tear up the second I think about it. The second I see the words, I can hear my mother's voice harmonizing it with me and I feel her holding my hand when we prayed. I never got the authority thing -- What I got was Responsibility. It's crushing; it's too hard. I can't forgive 70x70 and turn the other cheek, the whole "If you love me, feed my sheep," and "Be ye therefore perfect, as your father in heaven is perfect," and "Christ has no hands on earth but yours, no hands, no feet but yours." I hope somebody's still preaching service. It's funny -- you're about to run me back into church, just to make sure they're doing it right. :-D

chayaruchama said...

Tenderly, longingly, Jesus is callin'-
Callin' for you, and for me;
See, o'er the portals, he's waitin' and watching-
Waitin' and watching for me...

Come home, come home-
Ye who are weary, come ho-o-ome;

Tenderly, lovingly, Jesus is callin'-
Callin', "Poor sinners, come home"...

Whodat said...

Oh, that's a pretty one, too. Always precedes the altar call. Whoop! Chaya's got the spirit! Amen, Sistah Chaya!