I just posted the hymn “Bring Many Names” to my Facebook page. It is one of the few songs about an invisible guiding spirit that I have not completely trashed in recent years. I learned “Bring Many Names” at the First Unitarian Society where it just seemed so appropriate. Imagine my surprise when I typed in bring many names hymn and found that it was included in other religious hymn books. In fact “Bring Many Names” caused quite a stir when it was included in a book of hymns for Episcopalians. The reason being that the image of God changes throughout the song. The second verse contains some very controversial lyrics.
Strong mother God, working night and day,
Planning all the wonders of creation,
Setting each equation, genius at play:
Hail and Hosanna, strong mother God!
Although I am an atheist I somehow identified this character as my mother. I thought of her as the woman who kept the roof over our head, working two shifts when necessary to keep us together and told us what she could about life. She was deeply flawed and very human. In a world of racism and not so benign neglect, that was a real challenge. How do we raise African-American children to be proud of themselves and their heritage to become productive citizens in spite of almost everything that the society tells them about themselves?
The song presents the many stages of life: there was old aching god, young father god, and strong mother god so who could resist? It humanized the idea to make me think of myself when I was younger, now when my body hurt and the women in our family starting with my mother. Bring many names.
I sit here typing and nearly wanting to cry because “Bring Many Names” manifests in me the power of human resilience. We can live in these many different phases and still be planning for the next day. There is not, as far as I see, one spirit that empowers and challenges us to do our daily tasks but many wonderful and joyous and often harmonious. The conflict arises when people attempt to impose their way upon others and name their brothers’ beliefs. You, my brother, my sister, my neighbor, you, unknown person, I bring the name that you must believe. thus, controversies arise, people become frightened of the unknown and begin protesting about the presence of that unknown in their backyards.
They’re not ready to accept that there might be other names, other ways of conceiving this same concept. Since men created the idea of a supreme all-knowing being, what is there besides hubris that prevents the believers from understanding others might see that idea differently? Bring your inner joy, bring Jehovah, bring Darwin, bring Dr. King, bring Ra, bring many names. But impose not the name of your spirit upon another.
- Review: “The Hymns of Philip Doddridge” (eardstapa.wordpress.com)