August 20, 2009

In Defense of the Sea

In the American English Liturgy of the Hours one of two given hymns for Evening Prayer on Wednesday of Week IV is Robert Grant's "O Worship the king, all glorious above" for which William Croft's "Hanover" is suggested as the workout of a tune.

I've always kind of liked it, both as a text and a tune, but tonight I noticed a serious problem with the third verse:

This earth, with its store of wonders untold,
Almighty, thy power hath founded of old;
Hath 'stablished it fast by a changeless decree,
And round it has cast, like a mantle, the sea.

Now everybody knows that God did not put the sea around the earth, but instead called the land out of the sea, having already separated the waters into two with the dome of the sky. In other words, the sea was already there when God spoke the dry land out of it, and so it doesn't make any sense to suggest that the sea was "cast" around the land.

Anybody care to try to rewrite the verse to make it Biblically responsible, maintaining meter and the lovely double rhyme of the offending couplet?


Qualis Rex said...

Actually, Father, not to split hairs, but if we are being archeologically correct, then the land did in fact come before the sea. When God assembled the earth from solids and gasses, it wasn't until the magma cooled that we got "land" (still too hot to hold any liquids). After the cooling of the land, all the H20 in gas form residing in the atmosphere then condensed to become water and after still more cooling, ice.

The amazing part is that regardless of whatever time in the earth's history we have always had pretty much the same H20; either in the water, in the ice caps or in the atmosphere as gas.

A final point; if you are trying to create a passage close to Genesis regarding the sequence of events, I wouldn't bother. The ancient Hebrew of the first chapter of genesis is even too ancient for rabbinical scholars who dedicate their entire lives to understanding the Tenach. The consensus is that the Hebrew of Genesis is even a "later" version of a memorized poem, which is why the style does not coincide with the more literary and complex stories which follow. Point is, IMHO I think we can just get the gist that God created the Universe, including the earth and leave it at that.

Brother Charles said...

I don't know about all this stuff regarding "magma" and "gases." All I know is that the waters were there when God began to create, and then the land appeared when God commanded the waters to be in "one area" as my Jewish Publication Society Bible puts it.

Qualis Rex said...

Father Charles, believe me, I'm no purist when it comes to science, especially when it comes to archeology and astronomy. But I think the ancient Hebrew language, which couldn't support vowels, let alone complex scientific theories put the story together more as allegory than a chronological sequence of events. However, if you agree with the sequence in the bible, it could be supported if you accept that H2O could mean solid, liquid AND gas. In which case the H2O as gas in the atmosphere could mean the "water" that was already there in the heavens as you say. Then again as my uncle used to say, "Eh, whaddoiknow?" I'd definitely appreciate your take on it if you care to elaborate.

Rachel Gray said...

Father, even if the sea came after the land, I doubt God threw it down out of Heaven like a shawl. Fortunately that doesn't matter because IT'S A SIMILE! The line is meant to be poetic, not literal! So sing it with gusto just the way it is. :)

DN said...

Agh! Father! This is a description, not a recounting of Genesis. You're letting the bad guys win here. Might as well castigate the Psalms for describing God by different metaphors. Pull the biblical scholars outta your ears and sing away!

(Besides, the sea as a mantle of the earth is a lovely image. Both in itself and if we let the Marian associations play out.)

Brother Charles said...

Hey friends, don't front on me because I take first creation account in Genesis literally. It's within the window of Catholic orthodoxy to do so.

Qualis Rex said...

Father Charles, you certainly are within Catholic orthodoxy to believe this. I appologyze if I gave any impression I felt otherwise (not like my opinion matters one iota in the grand scheme : )

Brother Charles said...

Nor mine!

ben in denver said...

You could try "and upon it hath cast in His triumph the tree."

But doesn't fit well with the context of the rest of the stanza.

How about replacing "sea" with "breeze" The air is a bit more mantle like. But the rhyme is imperfect.

The best solution may be to chage "and round it has cast" to "and round it so vast".

This preserves perfectly the rhyme and meter, as well as the suggestion that the land came before the sea. However it may suggest they came at the same time.

Brother Charles said...

Excellent! I knew that a lyricist would rise to the occasion!

Thom Curnutte said...

Which Genesis story do you take literally, Father?



DN said...

'Round it so vast' is certainly the best of your suggestions, but it costs the image almost entirely.

Father, I'm still trying to figure out if you're serious. If so, that's fine, but neither Rachel nor I were panning that notion. Rather, the song doesn't make a claim that way--it addresses the way things are, not how they came to be.

Brother Charles said...

Perhaps, but it seems to me that to say "round it has cast" suggests how something came to be, though I admit, you don't have to read it that way.

Rachel Gray said...

Father, I thought of you about a week ago when Psalm 104 came up in the Sunday Office of Readings:

"You founded the earth on its base,
to stand firm from age to age.
You wrapped it with the ocean like a cloak:
the waters stood higher than the mountains.
At your threat they took to flight;
at the voice of your thunder they fled.
They rose over the mountains and flowed down
to the place which you had appointed.
You set limits they might not pass
lest they return to cover the earth."

So the disputed line is a quotation from a Psalm. You can see that the Psalmist describes a sequence of events: first God wrapped the land in water, then He called the land out of the water. That's also what the scientific theory states: first earth was covered in water as described by Qualis Rex, and then the continents emerged from the oceans. And this agrees with Genesis, because after all, the earth as described in Genesis 1:2-- formless, void, dark and covered in water-- must have been created that way by God prior to Genesis 1:2. So the song, the Psalm, the scientific theory, and Genesis all agree.

(But Psalms and hymns don't always agree with science, nor do they need to-- they're poetic and not always literal.)

Brother Charles said...

Very astute, Rachel!