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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Thou spread’st a table in my sight;
Thy unction grace bestoweth;
and O what transport of delight
from thy pure chalice floweth!

And so through all the length of days
thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise
within thy house forever.

     Henry Williams Baker’s “The King of Love My Shepherd Is”
     from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Sometimes it is interesting to look at the words of a hymn without the music. Sometimes what you find is wonderful and poetic. Sometimes, well, it’s really not.

Let me say, I love Psalm 23. It’s simple, direct, and elegant. It’s about trust. Translating that into this ornamented Victorian idiom . . . well, it’s like wearing a tuxedo to a barn raising, without irony.

Really? “Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over” becomes “Thy unction grace bestoweth; and O what transport of delight from thy pure chalice floweth.” Is that an improvement? Is there a churchier jargon word than “unction?” When was the last time you used it in conversation? “Excuse me, could you please pass the unguent for my unction?” “Am I not clever?” that lyric seems to say. It fairly reeks of authorial self-satisfaction.

So does that last paragraph I wrote, by the way.

We dress our faith in garments we think are becoming to us. We dress up to look good, and we’re always kind of pleased when someone takes note of it. Of all the virtues, humility is often the most overlooked.

The word of God is simple, direct, and elegant. It’s about love, and it’s about trust. If our telling of the tale illuminates that simple, direct, and elegant message, we’re doing our job of spreading the good news. If our telling of the tale draws attention to ourselves as the messengers, we have lost the truth behind the ostentation.

Lord, remind us that the truth is simple and that unadorned truth is more beautiful than anything we can do to decorate it. Help us to remember that our work is to live into your truth and not to make it our ornament. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator for Fine Arts

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