Algorithmic worship

OK, so it was probably because my brain was overheating in the service: Evensong after a rather hasty train journey in the kind of hot humid air you get just before summer rain begins. I only have one cassock, bought for my ordination, in “good value” wool for which I have been grateful in many a cold medieval church building over the years. But tonight was different – I was pouring sweat from every pore as we got to the last song of the service, a modification of an old Dave Bilborough number with dull linguistic monotony. But then I realised that it was possible to trace a simple formula for predicting the words with logical precision:

(Let there be x shared among us,

Let there be x in our lives

Now may your x fill the nations

Cause us, O Lord, to arise;

Give us a fresh understanding of

y x that is real;

Let there be x shared among us,

Let there be x.)

where x is a member of the set {love, peace, joy} and if (x>elements(set)), then x recurses to element 1 of the set in a final element substitution; and where y = {brotherly | sisterly} where (if the nth element of the x set is odd) then y=”brotherly”; else y=”sisterly”.

I’m sure that a proper mathematician or logician would be able to express this rule more elegantly, but at least this minor discursion took my mind off the heat. Also, since it was an Offertory Hymn, I wondered whether it would be in order to augment the x set with a further element, namely, “cash”, but sadly they hadn’t thought of this.

This logico-hymnological phenomenon has emerged steadily over the years as old choruses, which were originally “one verse wonders” have increasingly been pressed into service as full hymns as their original audience has aged, but the principle goes back a long way. For example, can you remember…

(q is flowing like a river

flowing out to you and me

spreading out into the desert

setting all the captives free).

In this case, q can be substituted with the same members of the set used in the Bilborough chorus in the first example.

Of course, like all logical systems, it is possible for bugs to get into the system. For example, the sets could be corrupted with alien elements, either substituted or added. For example, by adding “soup”, “beer” or substituting “lurve” at some point in the set.

I’d be interested if any readers (if there are any left) have other hymnological algorithms they would like to share with me (and the world) via the comments.

Share Button

3 replies on “Algorithmic worship”

  1. Are you familiar with Marc Catley’s classic “Times Seven”? It almost (but not quite) works like this:

    ( X is God )

    where X = Y * 7
    and Y = { Jesus, Spirit, God, Kendrick }

  2. When I was a choirboy I used to think about such things during the sermon. For example: why not express the hymn ‘Ten thousand times ten thousand’ as ’10 saints to the power 8′. Much quicker, if not as poetic.

Comments are closed.