STLT#341, O World, Thou Choosest Not the Better Part

I am in a Lichtenstein painting: “Oh no! I forgot to read George Santayana!”

And I’m a bit embarrassed, largely because he wrote about spirituality and aesthetics, and this is the area of my ministry and while God knows I have read a ton of literature in my area of ministry, how is it I’ve never read – or frankly, been directed to read – Santayana. What’s crazy is that I know more about Orlando Gibbons, the 16th century English composer of our tune, than I do about 20th century Spanish philosopher Santayana.

Sometimes this spiritual practice of mine is an unexpected wake up call.

What it isn’t, today, is a love of this particular hymn. Now hear me out: I love the tune (Song 1) – partly because it’s Gibbons and partly because it’s another Vaughan Williams arrangement. And I love the lyrics. And I don’t even mind them together (their mood matches). What I don’t love is the same thing I didn’t love about our setting of Frost’s poem in O Give Us Pleasure in the Flowers Today: I want time to savor and explore and think deeply about the words, not rush through them because of the demands of the music. Seriously, take a few moments to delight in these words:

O world, thou choosest not the better part!
It is not wisdom to be only wise,
and on the inward vision close the eyes,
but it is wisdom to believe the heart.
To trust the soul’s invincible surmise
is all of science and our only art.

Our knowledge is a torch of smoky pine
that lights the pathway but one step ahead
across a void of mystery and dread.
Bid, then, the tender light of faith to shine
by which alone the mortal heart is led
unto the thinking of the thought divine.

And this leads me to wonder whether this should have been included instead as a reading – would it be used more, or less? I honestly have never used it nor remember ever singing it, but I wish I’d been more aware of it before now – not just because I haven’t read enough Santayana, but because I would have used it in at least three different services.

Grateful, however, for this practice.

Now off to read some Santayana.

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