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Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 6th June 2021.

‘Music, Main Course, Pudding and Humility’

Do you ever get inside your head a tune that doesn’t seem to want to go away? It happens to me often. Last Sunday was an example. One of the hymns chosen by our choirmaster at Castor for Holy Communion was ‘How shall I sing that Majesty’. It was also chosen for Evening Prayer on Zoom at 6.00pm on Sunday. It is not one of the more well-known hymns, but I found myself humming the tune all through Monday and most of Tuesday.

The words of the hymn are by John Mason (1645-1694), an Anglican priest, poet and hymn writer. There are alternative tunes for the hymn. The tune we sang the words to on Sunday was ‘Coe Fen’. If you would like to listen to it on YouTube, try googling ‘Coe Fen Salisbury’ and you should get a link to a recording by Salisbury Cathedral Choir. It is a relatively modern tune, as far as accompaniments to traditional hymns go. The tune was written by Kenneth Nicholson Naylor (1931-1991), one time music master at The Leys School, Cambridge. (And incidentally the tune is named after a piece of meadow in Cambridge called Coe Fen, at the back of Peterhouse to the north, the Fitzwilliam Museum and The Leys School to the south.)

Music plays an important part in church worship. And the variety of church music is as wide as the variety of styles of churchmanship, from plain chant and traditional hymns at one end of the spectrum to soul and rock music at the other end.

Not only is music important in regular church services, but also in what clergy refer to as the ‘occasional offices’ – baptisms, weddings and funerals, when music tends to be the choice of the families participating. Regular churchgoers may choose traditional hymns and music. People who are not regular churchgoers often choose hymns and tunes they remember from school days. Or they may ask for modern music, or a mixture of the two, which may not necessarily work together. I like the analogy once given by an organist, advising a group of soon to be married couples, not to try to mix traditional and modern music. He said: “It’s like having your main course and your pudding on the same plate – it just doesn’t work”!

Funerals can be ‘interesting’, especially at the Crematorium, which has a catalogue of available recorded music ranging from hymns and Handel to Harry Secombe and Heavy Metal. I am sure most clergy will have experienced giving the final blessing, followed by Frank Sinatra singing “I did it my way”. I once had a funeral which ended after the blessing with Dean Martin signing “When you’re smiling”! Sometimes clergy have to have a spoonful of pudding on the same plate as their main course!

But that is what the reality of life is like. We cannot always have things the way we would like them, or how we think they should be, because we have to think of others and their own personal needs, and what matters to them. Sometimes we have to defer to others, to exercise a degree of humility and put others first.

Quite by chance, on the day when I was writing this reflection, the set Psalm for Morning Prayer spoke of music (“How good it is to make music to the Lord, how joyful it is to honour him with praise” (Psalm 147,v1)); and the set First Reading was about God teaching humility to the Israelites travelling from Egypt, through the wilderness, to the Promised Land (“He made water to flow for you from the flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good” (Deuteronomy 8vv15-16)).

Humility is a virtue. It is selflessness. It is about loving God and neighbour. It is an acceptance that sometimes we have to put others first, that sometimes the feelings and needs of others are more important than our own.

Humility brings me back to where I started, with the hymn ‘How shall I sing that Majesty’. It is a prayer of both praise to God and humility. It reminds us of how small we each are in the great scheme of things, how great God is, and how dependent we are on him. For example, the last two lines of the first verse are:

Ten thousand times ten thousand sound
Thy praise, but who am I?

And the last two lines of the third verse are:

Yet when thou dost accept their gold,
Lord, treasure up my mite.


Fr. Ray