I have heard it said that when Roman Catholic women pray, they pray the Rosary; when Protestant women pray, they sing hymns.

Spiritual and religious practices, such as songs, dances, and ritual movements, bypass the intellect and induce joy, wonder, anguish, pain, and love at a feeling level.  This is especially true for Christian Protestant hymns, which often convey more theology than scripture. And since many of the hymns are more than 100 years old, they in part define a subculture of childlike obedience to a benevolent father who takes charge of the world, or of trembling obedience to a warrior who fights on their behalf, as long as they obey the rules.

Protestant Christian hymns are rich in metaphor and often evoke God, the benevolent Father-King, who owns the world he created.  The metaphor encourages attitudes of benign passivity on the part of humans, who never grow up to take responsibility for their relationship to the earth and for the creation of themselves.  This is especially true of the hymn “This is My Father’s World”, written in the late 1800’s.  To remain a child is seen as good; the hymn contains some reassurance that good will prevail over wrong, but there is no urgency of human participation in whatever might bring this about.  There is not even a nod to what science has learned about the origins and unfolding of the universe we know today.

I have rewritten the text of the hymn, preserving the original tune, rhyme and meter, to isolate the words, metaphors, and ideas.

The first verse sets the creation in the primeval flaring forth we call the “big bang”, the light of which our science has now learned to see.  It asserts that the universe created itself, out of itself, and was not created by a benevolent maker outside of it.  The second verse is a human response: humans as the creation reflecting on itself, allowing its wonder to enter and transform.  The third verse acknowledges that knowledge of death enables humans to show themselves by embracing their passions and that the primeval flame from the first flaring forth is, even now, alive in us.

Sacred World

This is a sacred world
The Universe Divine
Pours into night creative might
And we reflect its shine.
This is a sacred world
We see its first-born light
Creating stars, their worlds, and ours
Flared forth in deepest night.

This is a sacred world
It permeates our sense
The moon, the tree, the cloud, the sea,
In pure magnificence.
This is a sacred world
Oh may it all employ
To listen well, with every cell,
Transformed in wondrous joy.

This is a sacred world.
Though death will have its due
It makes me dare to live aware
My deepest dream pursue
This is a sacred world.
May I arise and see
Primeval flame, creation’s name
Now come to birth in me.

— Text by Sharon L. Reinbott