Hymns I Would Block For All Eternity: Woman in the Night

Hymns I Would Block For All Eternity: Woman in the Night September 12, 2022

“There are a lot of hymns that are terrible.”

That’s a pat answer used by every pop worship apologist I’ve ever known. Generally, it’s incorrect when talking about hymnody as a whole. Yes, there have been some terrible hymns written in generations past, but most of those have long been dropped. There might be some remaining that you don’t like, but most remaining traditional hymnody is solid, especially if one knows the difference between a hymn and a gospel song.

But over the past few decades, there are a number of hymns written and pushed by hymnal committees that I think should never have seen the light of day in the first place. Some of them are good examples of bad poetry. Others are unsingable. Still others contain sketchy theology. Others are just creepy.

Recently, a photo has begun circulating again on social media of a form entitled “Block a Hymn for a Year.” It dates back to 2015 when the “minister” of a Unitarian Universalist congregation came up with a brilliant fundraising idea. Members were given the opportunity to bid on the chance to block a hymn from being used in services for an entire calendar year. The winner, garnering a whopping $125, was allowed to block “Bring Many Names” for a whole year. If I dare say so, that’s not a bad choice.

Whenever this story reappears on social media, I’m often asked which hymns I would choose. That’s a hard question to answer, since in my line of work, I don’t make a practice of ignoring hymns because they annoy me, and there are more than a few of those. (“Rock of Ages,” the Brady Bunch Hymn, etc.) The job of a music director is to faithfully support good liturgy, not self-indulge in a neverending all-request hour.

But there are some hymns that I think are so bad, so useless in liturgy, that I would ban them, and not only for a month or a year, but for all eternity. And here is the first that came to my mind.

Brian Wren is a decent-enough poet, he could certainly write good hymns if he chose to. I rather like a few of his earlier ones. But instead, he has taken upon himself to write hymns that focus on a socio-political agenda instead of the glory of God and the beauty of the gospel.

And some of them are really creepy.

Such is the case with “Woman in the Night.”

This little number has been published in ten hymnals, including The United Methodist Hymnal (1989) and Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal (2013). One of Wren’s self-proclaimed objectives in hymnwriting has been to “speak truth by stepping beyond the church’s limits of comfort and convention.” It’s one thing to challenge limits of comfort and convention. It’s another thing to write a hymn like this.

Wren’s stanzas each refer to Jesus’ encounters with woman as documented in the gospels. The first one doesn’t start off too terribly, I guess.

Woman in the night,
Spent from giving birth,
Guard our precious light;
Peace is on the earth.

But then there’s this:

Woman in the crowd,
Creeping up behind,
Touching is allowed:
Seek and you will find.

The horror.

Another stanza goes this way:

Woman at the well,
question the Messiah;
find your friends and tell:
drink your heart’s desire!
Woman at the feast,
let the righteous stare;
come and go in peace;
love him with your hair!

Weird. Creepy. And apparently, Mr. Wren has never met an adolescent.

The rest of the hymn goes like this:

Come and join the song,
women, children, men.
Jesus makes us free
to live again!

Woman in the house,
nurtured to be meek,
leave your second place,
listen, think, and speak!
Women on the road,
from your sickness freed,
witness and provide,
joining word and deed:

Women on the hill,
stand when men have fled;
Christ needs loving still,
though your hope is dead.
Women in the dawn,
care and spices bring,
earliest to mourn,
earliest to sing!

This is one I’d block for all eternity. Which hymn would you choose?

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