This evening will be one of the one or two times a year that, as vice-president of my local WI, I will run the monthly meeting. It is not an onerous responsibility as the women are known to me after nearly three years and some are my closest friends.
The challenge for me is not running the meeting, but that I don’t sing ‘Jerusalem’. I quite confidently la la my way through standing facing the 60 or so members, but I can’t sing the words. And the reason is that words have power in my personal metaphysical/spiritual/religious understanding. I do not believe you should just sing words to any hymn or say the words to any prayer just to be polite. It used to cause me great discomfort when in church I’d be standing next to someone, even now and then a clergyperson, saying one of the creeds and knowing that they did not believe several of the statements – statements that men killed each other in early church councils to have included or excluded. If I know the music to a hymn and I am in a situation where hymning is happening then I will hum along, and once recently I carefully altered one or two words so I could join in, no one around me noticed, but it was able to join in a bit.
The problem with ‘Jerusalem’ as a hymn/song is that if you really pay attention to the words, and a quick survey of the other members I know well indicates that they do not think about them or pay attention, is that this hymn is asking for something quite specific to occur in and to our ‘green and pleasant land.’ First of all it seems to me generally to be a call to desecrate green space in favour of cities. This is something that as a Druid I can’t sanction. And secondly, is the stated desire to build a particular city, Jerusalem, which would bequeath nothing but conflict and strife in our country. Jerusalem is one of the most contested cities on the planet and has been the sight of more bloodshed, destruction and death over centuries than any other metropolis in the world.
In the way I understand the power of word and intention in language to seek such a thing for this country is unwise, misguided and dangerous. Simply because Blake wrote it and it has been such an important song over the years doesn’t make it all right to carelessly sing it.
I’m sure there are those who would say; 1) she’s over reacting, that it’s just a song; 2) get over it and sing with the ladies for crying out loud; 3) she just doesn’t understand.
But sorry, this is one of my most deeply held principles: Language has the power to shape energy, change or control minds, alter the course of history. Further, since what we say aloud can’t be unsaid, we are responsible for our words, though we can’t control what others choose to do with them, look what happens to politicians when they misspeak, which is the reason it is wise to be prudent, essential to be cautious.
One of the new ways the WI is attempting to reach out to bring in younger members is by saying: The WI isn’t just jam and ‘Jerusalem’ any more. For me it is neither and never has been, as I’m not really a jam person either – it’s way too sweet for me – bring on the pickles!