Monday, June 30, 2008

Oh Canada!

We sang the national anthem in church on Sunday. This is always interesting to me. I think good things about it and I think not so sure things about it. Anyway, here are the lyrics, as based on the original version of Robert Stanley Weir's 1908 poem, with some of my questions and comments inserted. This is going to sound cynical but I don't mean it that way. I just have always meant to think about the lyrics and this time around I did so, and found I had some questions . . .

O Canada!Our home and native land!True patriot love in all thy sons command.
It rarely occurs to me that this is us singing to Canada asking it to command true patriot love in all its sons (we still aren't gender inclusive on this one). What did it mean in 1908 to have "true patriot love"?
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,The True North strong and free!
In what sense are we "strong" and "free"? Just curious. I'd like to know what most people think they mean when they say that---at hockey games, and especially in church. What did it mean to be "free" in 1908? What does it mean in 2008? In what sense is this a biblical notion of freedom? In what sense is it not?
From far and wide,O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free!O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee. I'm not sure we know what it means to really "stand on guard" for our country. I don't, anyway.

O Canada! Where pines and maples grow. Great prairies spread and lordly rivers flow.
Lordly. That's a funny word.
How dear to us thy broad domain, From East to Western Sea,
True. It is pretty cool.
Thou land of hope for all who toil! Thou True North, strong and free! God keep our land . . .
"Land of hope for all who toil." Hmm. What are we talking about here? I'm very very curious what that meant in 1908. I feel like there are some colonial-capitalistic overtones here. Maybe I'm just listening for them more this year after thinking so much this year about the scar of our residential schools legacy (and what did first nations people think when they sang "God keep our land" in the early 1900s?). Still, I suppose we could sing it now with the "toil" for reconciliation, truth, and healing in mind. That would be a hope worth singing for.

O Canada! Beneath thy shining skiesMay stalwart sons and gentle maidens rise,
Ahhh, I've always loved the word "stalwart". And it is good to see the maidens mentioned here.
To keep thee steadfast through the years From East to Western Sea, Our own beloved native land! What do immigrant Canadians think about when they sing "native land"? Insert any kind of Canadian in there, I'd like to know the answer to that. For me it just means I was born here and its a part of me. Fair enough.
Our True North, strong and free! God keep our land . . .
I like how our anthem defines us according to our proximity to other nations, mainly the U.S. (admittedly I'm reaching for cynicism a bit here. I don't know how anyone could call us the True South, West, or East). Still, there is a bit of an insight into our inferiority complex in that line isn't there?

Ruler supreme, who hearest humble prayer,
I'm amazed that this is the poem behind our anthem. I don't think for a second that the nationalistic prayers of old were all pure and spotless in their Christ-likeness, but it is interesting how much things have changed. We are fairly thankful for our freedom of worship, but with that comes everyone else's freedom of worship, and with that comes the cancellation of stanza 4 from the official lyric sheet. Even "God keep our land" is bound to go eventually, I would think. Maybe not. We'll see.
Hold our dominion within thy loving care;
That's a decent prayer. What's a dominion?
Help us to find, O God, in thee, A lasting, rich reward, As waiting for the Better Day, We ever stand on guard. God keep our land . . .
Wow, ending with some pretty fine eschatological tension. Sweetness.

Incidentally, my favourite thing about the Canada Day sermon today was that the pastor honoured the PM for doing what was right this year and submitting a national apology to first nations people. Yes! Truth and reconciliation: A nation that got serious about that . . . now that is something I am/could be really proud of.


Philbert said...

Colin Toffelmire said...

Personally I refuse to sing any national anthem in a worship service, nor will I worship in a sanctuary that displays a national flag as a symbol of allegiance. I'm with Hauerwas on this one, those are nationalistic idolatries that stand in opposition to and competition with God himself.

Don't get me wrong, I love this country and consider myself a fiercely patriotic Canadian. I'll sing the anthem anywhere but in a service where the express purpose is the worship of God.

As far as the final verse goes...ehhhhh, I'm not sure. Particularly after the preceding verses it has the feel of deism to me but I suppose that intent (of the singer I mean) matters a lot there.

jon said...

good link phil. interesting.

i'm not sure the god being talked about it anything but a vague entity representing all faiths, but i was definitely trying to give it all the benefit of the doubt as i sang it in a christian worship service. in other words, i was trying to sing it with the intent that we seemed to be making of it (actually i didn't really sing it, so i guess i should say i was trying to mean it).

i'm not sure i'm as strong on this as you, colin, but that's just because i need to think about it some more. i'd tend to agree with you though. you would certainly not have liked where the flag was hanging in this case: in front of and just below the cross.


yeah, as soon as you bring nationalism into a worship service you are doing way more than you probably well-intend.

i don't think i'd do it. but i did go with it and tried to find what was in it.

Tony Tanti said...

I think I agree that this shouldn't be sung in church. Confusing your faith and your patriotism is a dangerous thing and has lead many in the US to believe they are God's blessed country.

Great critique of this poem, especially the part about it being our land. What did that mean 100 years ago? There's this myth that when Europeans settled this vast country it was an unoccupied land and this song/poem seems to go along with that BS.

Wasn't this poem written in french originally? I've heard the english translation isn't actually all that accurate.