CNN reports today: Hundreds of people sang “Amazing Grace” and prayed Friday evening as they gathered at a City Hall in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, to mourn the victims of a shooting spree.
Great hymns, because of their beautiful verse, and apt and familiar tunes give people a sense of comfort, a sense of standing on something solid when everything else seems to totter and fall. This may be likened to the sense of comfort that one may experience in a cathedral with stained glass windows and pipe organ. The very wood of the ancient mahogany pews offers a sense of stability.
Americans are so fond of this hymn, Amazing Grace and invariably sing it in all solemn occasions. And yet the words would seem so out of place in most of these occasions, because they talk about the wretchedness of sinners without Christ and the grace that saves those who have been found. I cannot see how these words can offer any comfort in a public gathering where such sentiments are alien. I conclude that the main culprit in this anomaly is the beautiful tune.
The tune of this hymn is special to me too and brings with it many distracting memories that I could do without, struggling as I already do to worship God from my inner man in spirit and truth. Finding an alternate tune was not difficult as it follows the common meter. Singing to the tune of “The Lord’s my Shepherd” was a bit confusing because of the similarity of tunes. I thought the tune of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” was perfect.
Another such hymn is ‘Just as I am without one plea,’ where playing the introduction is enough to set off some into bursts of copious tears.