Somewhere, way back in my childhood, this is the first hymn I ever learned to play on the piano. Or, I should say, the first one I remember playing. I think I was about 11 years old and I suppose playing it was easy enough to draw me into the world of hymns. I have fond memories of playing it, and other hymns, with a friend of mine – we would merrily flip through the hymnbook and play whatever we could. Sometimes, in fits of laughter, we would settle on two hymns on facing pages, and dive in for a duet of less than inspirational quality, regardless of competing time and key signatures. Probably not what the hymn writers intended.
These are very old words. They can be found in many Gregorian chants, the earliest record of their use in 990 at a monastery in Switzerland. The original Latin text is: Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi: Quia per Crucem tuam redemisti mundum. This familiar hymn version was written as part of an oratorio by Théodore Dubois in 1867 (translated into English in 1899 by Theodore Baker).
Christ, we do all adore thee,
And we do praise thee forever.
For on the holy cross hast thou
the world from sin redeemed.
This is a simple hymn. The music is simple; the words are simple. Perhaps this is what drew me to it as a child. We adore and praise Christ, why? Because of his sacrifice and resulting redemption. End of story. For those that adhere to this belief, there isn’t much more to add. And, many have experienced moments where the simplicity of repeated statements of this kind of childlike faith have been very moving and very meaningful. Sometimes that’s all we need.
And yet, as always, we need to look beyond the places we lived as children. To look for that which confounds as well as comforts, to consider other points of view. Can this simple sentiment mean more than what it appears – can it be meaningful beyond the confines of a specific belief system?
Christ’s example of sacrificial love is powerful. His story is about providing what was needed, in all sorts of ways, to all sorts of people. Healing, food, comfort, reassurance, and ultimately, redemption. And, some choose to adore and praise him as a result. Regardless of how his example has been used and misused throughout church history, these behaviours are valuable and honorable and worthy.
I don’t really know what sin is, but I suspect behaving in ways that are the opposite of love defines it well. I also suspect that the lists of sins that have been screamed at us from many a pulpit, contain more about maintaining power structures than about expressing love, and have little to do with deep, moral truths. The standard is so much higher than what we have been told. Simply following rules is both easy to do and easy to dismiss, and a little lazy in the lack of understanding of how humans learn, grow and evolve. Truly living in a spirit of love requires a great deal more effort, and its absence requires enormous redemption.
For me, redemption is about the process of regaining what has been lost. When we exhibit behaviours that are less than loving, we lose something. We lose a part of the recipient’s spirit and a part of our own. We leave a trail of destruction in our wake. We become unadorable.
All of this leaves me wondering about both the simplicity and complexity of choosing love. It is difficult. There are times when we must honour ourselves by walking away from damaging situations, or must rely on others to provide for a need we cannot possibly fill. Being a person grounded in love does not mean we are weak and accepting of whatever the world or our neighbours throw our way. But how we choose to behave matters. What we say, what we do, how we react and respond.
Adoration and praise is probably best saved for the gods. But redemption is something we all need. If we are willing to consider the greatest examples in human history, we will see that whatever was lost is always regained through actions, words, honour and commitment. When these things are firmly grounded in a paradigm of love, rebuilding is possible, even if it is challenging and takes a lifetime.
This simple hymn reminds me that that there are powerful forces available to guide my path. There is hate. There is love. The guide I choose will determine not the perfection of my experience, but the impact my path has on this world.
The original Latin includes the words, and we bless thee. This is my wish. That our lives and the paths we walk provide that which blesses those we encounter and those who follow.
Et benedicimus tibi.