Metrical hymns are out of fashion these days in favor of praise songs and pop-influenced worship music. But rhymed metrical hymns are easy to memorize, and they’re actually a really efficient way to give people of all ages a basic introduction to discrete religious subjects. And every metrical hymn provides a theological interpretation of to its subject matter, so it is doubly useful: you get the basic topic, and an interpretation of that topic.
So I’ve been thinking how post-Christian Unitarian Universalists might use metrical hymns to teach post-Christian topics. I’ve been reading about the birth of Buddha in the Jataka-nidana, and I was captured by the story of the Four Omens. This would make a good metrical hymn: it’s a concise story about two paths open to a baby, one path leading to worldly success and another path leading to a life on contemplation. The baby’s father of course hopes for worldly success, but learns that if the boy ever sees a dead person, an ill person, a mendicant monk, or an old person, then the boy will grow up to be, not a king, but the Buddha. What a thought-provoking story!
Anyway, an early draft of such a hymn appears after the jump.
1. Queen Maya bore a baby boy
In the Lumbini grove
The King rejoiced; the baby lived
With both his parents’ love.
2. They chose Siddhartha Gotama
To be the baby’s name.
Eight Brahmins came to tell the king
The baby’s future fame.
3. “A Universal King he’ll be,
As long as he remains
A householder,” the Brahmins said,
“By household life constrained.”
4. But Kondanya, the youngest, said,
“A Buddha he’ll become,
He will renounce the household life
And be th’Enlightened One.”
5. “And why should he renounce his home?”
“If he should ever see
Old age, ill health, a monk, or death,
A Buddha he must be.”
This is still a work in progress. It needs a last verse to wrap things up — which means I’ll have to drop one or two other verses, given that we never sing more than four verses of any hymn.