Sunday, December 31, 2006,10:03 AM
Medieval Praise and Worship
So I started reading the newest book in Thomas Cahill's Hinges of History series - Mysteries of the Middle Ages - The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe. I love his books. I fully realize that he writes pop history and I'm usually itching for more extensive footnotes when I read him, but I enjoy it nonetheless. Reading Cahill is a good reminder that all history is interpretation (as is all theology, but we've been there on this blog already...). Half the time I'm just envious of his vocabulary and command of language.

His book are full of fun little details, sidenotes, and commentary about history. Like the origin of the term "bugger" or commenting how the lack of a sound system or buildings with decent acoustics prevented women and non-alpha males from regularly addressing large groups of people in the ancient world - it just wasn't physically possible. Anyway, I thought I'd blog on some of the details I found most interesting.

Cahill includes the following verses from the late Medieval Christmas Carol "My Dancing Day" (read the full song here) -

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance;

Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love!

In a manger laid, and wrapped I was
So very poor, this was my chance
Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass
To call my true love to my dance. Chorus

Then up to heaven I did ascend,
Where now I dwell in sure substance
On the right hand of God, that man
May come unto the general dance. Chorus

Of course I liked the imagery of the dance, but reading the song and its history amused me by its similarity to today's praise songs. "My Dancing Day" was sung as part of the mystery plays - dramas that told (interpreted, elaborated, and contextualized) bible stories to the common folks. And the chorus is from a secular love song which probably because of its popularity was "baptized" and conjoined with the Christmas story. So here we have a version of the "Jesus is my boyfriend" songs from the late Middle Ages - popular because its familiar tune and down-to-earth images the common folks could understand. A song that celebrates the incarnation and its implications for our lives. So for the number of times I've heard complaints about praise and worship music (or done the complaining myself) it is interesting to think about what the implications for incarnation are for those songs. How do they connect people with out world or teach us how to be the incarnation of love? Do they invite us to join the dance no matter how simple their lyrics? Do songs have to be theological masterpieces to be meaningful or useful?

Just some thoughts and fun reflections sparked by history...

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