Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bring Many Names

When I should have been working yesterday, I spent a little time hunting for an audio or video version of "Bring Many Names," the haunting and beautiful hymn by Brian Wren. It is my all-time favorite, and I've vowed to haunt DairyStateMom or the DairyStateKids if it's not played at my funeral.

The best I could do was a YouTube rendition in which, sadly, the organ drowns out the lyrics.

I was inspired to undertake the hunt after reading Ms. Kitty's sermon from this past Sunday.

Here are the lyrics as it is now sung in most Christian churches in which it is used.

If you're familiar with the hymn from our own Singing the Living Tradition you might note that the Fifth Stanza's words are different in the lyrics to which I linked above.

Actually, I've seen two different revisions:

Young, growing God, eager, on the move,
seeing all, and fretting at our blindness,
crying out for justice,
giving all you have:
Hail and Hosanna,
young, growing God!

as well as

Young, growing God, eager, on the move,
saying no to falsehood and unkindness,
crying out for justice, giving all you have:
Hail and hosanna, young, growing God!

Here is how we UUs sing that verse--Wren's original lyrics:

Young, growing God, eager still to know,
willing to be changed by what you've started
quick to be delighted, singing as you go,
Hail and Hosanna,
young, growing God!

Wren tells the story of that lyric change here:
The fifth stanza ("Young, growing God") was revised in August 1988 after conversations with the Mennonite-Brethren Hymnal Council (USA). The original read: "Young, growing God, eager still to know,/willing to be changed by what you've started,/quick to be delighted,/singing as you go etc.". I stand by the theology, but believe the revision better suggests God's "youthfulness."

I do like the notion of God "saying no to falsehood," "crying out for justice," or, for that matter, "seeing all and fretting at our blindness" -- but frankly, I find those revisions a bit clunky. And to me the image of God "willing to be changed by what you've started" is far more moving and profound.

I am glad Wren doesn't repudiate the theology that inspired him. And I'm glad, too, that we UUs -- so often criticized for changing hymns to match our own theological inclinations** -- stuck with the original lyrics on this one...

(**obligatory Keillor link eschewed)


  1. Thanks for the nod, DSD. That hymn thrills me whenever I hear it or sing it. So profound.

  2. Another thing I love about the hymn is not merely the inclusion of images of "Mother" and "Father" God -- but the use of counter-stereotypical images. So it is the Mother God who is "setting each equation" and the Father God who is "hugging every child."

    I have yet to get through this hymn without weeping...

  3. It is track #11 on the Chancel Choir of First Unitarian Church of Oakland's Bring Many Names - Music From Our Liberal Religious Tradition CD.

    Thanks, DSD, for sharing the lyrical variations and Wren's words about his choices.

    This indeed is a beautiful hymn that, when I was new to UUism, gave me an in into the gray book hymns that up to then had just seemed churchier (i.e., too reminiscent of hymns of my fundamentalist youth) than I was then comfortable with. "BMN" helped me get past that hang up.


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