Hymns of the God’s Gardeners

Hymns of the God’s Gardeners July 11, 2013

I’ve been reading Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, and will be reviewing it in the near future. But I wanted to highlight one component of the second book in the trilogy, The Year of the Flood.

The novel includes snippets of sermons as well as a whole set of complete songs reflecting the theology of this fictional religious group, God’s Gardeners. They are concerned with the environment and humanity’s mistreatment of it, and are expecting a “waterless flood” that will come to cleanse and restore the Earth. There are references to the Bible as “the written words of God” and yet the interpretations offered are far from literalistic. They are creative, insightful, and make the book all the more interesting and enjoyable for a reader like myself.

Here is the last of the hymns featured in the book:

The Earth Forgives

The Earth forgives the Miner’s blast

That rends her crust and burns her skin;

The centuries bring Trees again,

And water, and the Fish therein.

The Deer at length forgives the Wolf

That tears his throat and drinks his blood;

His bones return to soil, and feed

The trees that flower and fruit and seed.

And underneath those shady trees

The Wolf will spend her restful days;

And then the Wolf in turn will pass,

And turn to grass the Deer will graze.

All Creatures know that some must die

That all the rest may take and eat;

Sooner of later, all transform

Their blood to wine, their flesh to meat.

But Man alone seeks Vengefulness,

And writes his abstract Laws on stone;

For this false Justice he has made,

He tortures limb and crushes bone.

Is this the image of a god?

My tooth for yours, your eye for mine?

Oh if Revenge did move the stars

Instead of Love, they would not shine.

We dangle by a flimsy thread,

Our little lives are grains of sand:

The Cosmos is a tiny sphere

Held in the hollow of God’s hand.

Give up your anger and your spite,

And imitate the Deer, the Tree;

In sweet Forgiveness find your joy,

For it alone can set you free.

The hymns have been put to music and recorded by Orville Stoeber. They are available on the CD Hymns of the God’s Gardeners; Lyrics from Year of the Flood as well as for mp3 download.

Stoeber has a YouTube channel, and on it you can find a few of the songs. Here are a couple of examples (starting with “The Earth Forgives”):

The folksy style of many of his settings (and 50s-60s rock style of others) is probably perfect, since the group has elements of the hippy and the environmental concern that is often closely connected with folk music and the 60s.

There is sheet music available for purchase – see the Year of the Flood website.

Yet, just as we have songs and hymns sung to multiple tunes, and set to new tunes, I am very interested in seeing some of the hymns put to music that could be used in churches where folk or 50s and 60s rock music simply doesn’t fit. (And just to illustrate the potential, although not intended to be a serious version, here is one of them sung to the tune of “Amazing Grace” at an event at Emory University at which Atwood spoke):

Finally, here is Atwood talking about the novel, including why she avoids characterizing them as science fiction.

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