Watching a local production of Godspell, the 1971 musical based loosely on the Gospel of Matthew, I found myself thinking of the similarities between “Jesus Loves Me,” the ubiquitous Sunday School and church song, and “Day by Day,” the most famous song from the musical. Both are simple, strongly rhymed, and centered on the singer’s relationship with Jesus.
I’ve always disliked “Jesus Loves Me.” My first memory of the song/hymn dates back to college, when an intellectual, progressive minister told us that Karl Barth, when asked to name the most profound theological insight he knew, said “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I couldn’t agree more with Barth that it all comes down to Jesus. But somehow he seemed to be slumming it. The song has always struck me as caught uncomfortably between the worlds of children and adults, much like the “children’s sermon” in a church.
“Day by Day” is even simpler, repeating the same lines: “Oh dear Lord/ three things I pray/To see thee more clearly/love thee more dearly/follow thee more nearly.” Yet I’ve always found it profoundly moving, and unavoidably worshipful. Perhaps I’m betraying a little envy of those who came of age in the 1960s—Godspell has a distinctly 1960s flavor, at least to me—but “Day by Day” seems to get close to the heart of my faith.