Sunday, January 15, 2012

Take Thou our minds, dear Lord

I rarely bother to make lists or even attempt to name any of my favorite hymns, simply because depending on the circumstance or occasion such a list would be changing weekly or maybe even more frequently.  During Lent, for example, I get caught up in such hymns as "My song is love unknown" or of course "O sacred head, now wounded," whereas after Easter something like "The strife is o'er" or the Brian Wren hymn "Christ is alive!" takes over. Other occasions or events, liturgical or more personal, will bring other hymns to mind.  For that period of time, that hymn will for all practical purposes be my "favorite."

A few, though, manage to maintain a general state of presence in my consciousness when I think of hymns.  (Yes, I think about hymns, even when I don't have to.  I am weird, and I'm pretty comfortable with that by now.)  One of those is a hymn that may not be all that familiar to some, but has stayed with me fairly strongly since first singing it at, I think, First Presbyterian in Tallahassee (bless you, Michael Corzine and Brant Copeland).  For those with Presbyterian hymnals it can be found at #392, "Take Thou our minds, dear Lord."

It follows a fairly common pattern in which the singer invites the Lord to be Lord over the multiple aspects of life -- mind, heart, will, self -- over the course of its stanzas.  It's a good corporate text -- full of 'we' and 'us' instead of 'me' and 'I' -- and builds up to an appropriate climax as the singers promise to "hear, and henceforth heed, Thy sovereign call."

It was written in 1918 and sounds like it, or perhaps sounds even older; 'thee,' 'thy,' and 'thou' are prevalent throughout.  The tune with which it is paired, simply called HALL, is a fairly stately one and flavored with the occasional bit of quasi-Romantic chromaticism.  Nothing terribly difficult waits to ambush a congregation that sings it.

While I do remember singing it back then, it seems to have become more scarce in later years, though I don't always trust my memory on such things.  It does seem to be overshadowed by the hymn that lies just ahead of it in the Presbyterian book, "Take my life and let it be," a text thirty-four years older which follows a similar pattern of yielding the various facets of self to Christ's will.  The tune (HENDON) perhaps moves a bit more, although the harmonic rhythm is actually slower at times.  For whatever reason, though, "Take my life" shows up a lot more than "Take Thou our minds."

Somehow I've come to prefer the later hymn.  It wasn't even a conscious choice as far as I know; I've never (before now) sat down and pondered why all things being equal I'd rather sing "Take Thou our minds" than "Take my life."  Maybe it's because "Take Thou our minds" is newer to me; I've known the text to "Take my life" since childhood, although more frequently to a different tune than HENDON.  Maybe it's the practical consideration of the older hymn's six stanzas versus four included in the PH for the newer text.

Or maybe it's something else.

As I consider it today, for some reason, it occurs to me that in the later hymn, the first thing yielded is our minds.  And it strikes me that for many, many Christians, the mind is the absolute last thing anyone wants to give over.

I dare say this isn't a unified phenomenon.  Why this should be such an unnerving concept for the Christian isn't hard to compute.  I'd guess there are several disparate motivations.

Perhaps there's the fear that such a prayer -- "take Thou our minds" -- will put us in the position of being somehow anti-intellectual, maybe even in ways that might be embarrassing.  We don't want to seem so retrograde.  We don't want to come off like Westboro Baptist "Church" in Topeka, or some other mindless bunch of haters.  Or short of that, but still very unsettling, we might somehow be lumped in wrongly with those evolution-denying types or some other equally dumb-sounding bunch.  Can't have that.  Better keep control of our minds so we can avoid that.

Perhaps there's the fear that such a prayer might lead us to give up things we don't want to give up.  It's all well and good to give of our time, our financial resources, our abilities, our emotions, our affections; we can still reserve our little pet indulgences off to the side.  Give up our minds, though, and we might just have to face that our pet indulgences, our pet rationalizations that allow us to do whatever we want in our "own time" with minds, monies, bodies, etc. won't stand up to even a millisecond's critical reflection.  Can't have that.  Better keep control of our minds so we can avoid that.

Perhaps there's the fear that "take Thou our minds" as a prayer will really, more than any of the other aspects of our lives we might offer up to God, will lead to the most unbearable, most unthinkable loss of all; the loss of control, the loss of being "our own man" or "our own woman"; an autonomous individual who judiciously approves of giving x amount of our time, this particular ability or talent, and y percent of our money to a particular church that won't embarrass us or demand too much of us.  If we go that far who knows what might happen?  We might have to change our minds about some things.  We might figure out, much to our own displeasure, that our job or our social circle or our boyfriend or girlfriend or political affiliations or passion for sports or who knows what is standing between us and the fulness of what God would have us be.  Worst of all, we might even be forced to walk away from a perfectly happy career and do something really foolish, like go to seminary.  (OK, so maybe there are other reasons this hymn has been on my mind for a while.  And yes, there are probably worse things.)  Can't have that.  Better keep control of our minds so we can avoid that.

The full first stanza of "Take Thou our minds, dear Lord":

Take Thou our minds, dear Lord, we humbly pray;
Give us the mind of Christ each passing day;
Teach us to know the truth that sets us free;
Grant us in all our thoughts to honor thee.

To have the mind of Christ, day in and day out.  To honor God in all our thoughts.  Amazing, powerful, joyous, terrifying prospects those are.  Over the centuries of Christianity men and women have gone to fearsome lengths to strive for that condition, to achieve such closeness of communion with the Divine.  The monastic life, hermitage, the asceticism of the desert, and even more things some of which are fairly awful to contemplate, all striving to set the thoughts of the world aside and take on the mind (and heart and soul and will) of Christ.

To live, not off in the desert or some other hermitage or isolation, but in the noisy and combative world, the get-rich-or-kill-trying world where the common mind is so clearly and painfully not of Christ, to live in that world with the mind of Christ seems so far beyond impossible as to be pathetic.  Yet there it is, an insane and life-risking prayer as plain as day in the very first stanza of a humble little hymn.

Take Thou our minds, dear Lord, we humbly pray;
Give us the mind of Christ each passing day;
Teach us to know the truth that sets us free;
Grant us in all our thoughts to honor thee.

(And after all this, I'm probably going to find out that the hymn will be getting cut from the upcoming new Presbyterian hymnal.  Wouldn't that just about be the way it goes?)

1 comment: