Monday, July 30, 2012

The Not So Secular Olympic Ceremonies

Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer!
The "Queen" arrives at Olympic Stadium.
I mentioned in yesterday’s entry the fascination of a billion people with the opening “liturgy” of the Olympics as compared and contrasted with the dwindling and graying congregations at Sunday Mass.  But what really drew my attention to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics was not the questions it raises about liturgy but what it said about British secularism as differentiated from American secularism.  So, did you catch in the opening sequence Sir Hubert Parry’s fabulous hymn based on William Blake’s poem Jerusalem?  

And did those feet in ancient time.
Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land

And Blake’s “Jerusalem” was not all.  Checking the playlist I could not find the John Hughes/William Williams Welsh hymn, “Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer” a perennial favorite of the Royals, but I know that I heard it—the refrain: “feed me till I want no more” is an inside joke among several of us and it caught my attention, plus the tune itself is a great melody. Even as the Blake lyrics represented England, and “Flower of Scotland” (another of my favorites) represented the Northern Kingdom, I suspect that the Hughes/Williams piece was a tip to Wales.  All well and good in Britain, but could you imagine if two ardent Christian hymns were ever included in a civic ritual in the United States?  People would be screaming about Separation of Church and State.  Of course England doesn’t have separation of Church and State—the Church of England being by law established, but that isn’t the point.  In America we want religion and all its vestiges banished from public life, that is every religion except for the lack of religion.  Too bad, for as we saw at Danny Boyle’s spectacular, religion—all religion—has some great tunes.    And I love a good tune, religious or otherwise. 

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