Our hymn this week is about longing for peace in our broken world. The inspiration came to me quite unexpectedly on Friday. I had spent all week not feeling much direction about what to share or if to share at all today, and suddenly this song called out to me. Maybe it was a God thing (as a close friend said to me in another context this week). Maybe it’s that I feel the walls of anxiety and hopelessness over the bleakness of the Fall closing in around me. OK, actually right now I’m feeling pretty good. As Nadia Bolz-Weber shared recently in her weekly prayers of the people: Whoever is up there listening, please save me from catastrophic thinking. Yes, I can remember that there is a day of peace dimly shining.
Vs. 1 O day of peace that dimly shines through all our hopes and prayers and dreams, guide us to justice, truth and love, delivered from our selfish schemes. May swords of hate fall from our hands, our hearts from envy find release, till by God’s grace our warring world shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace.
Vs 2 Then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb, nor shall the fierce devour the small; as beasts and cattle calmly graze, a little child shall lead them all. Then enemies shall learn to love, all creatures find their true accord; the hope of peace shall be fulfilled, for all the earth shall know the Lord.
This hymn is included in the Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God, under the heading “A new heaven and a new earth” which is the most appropriate place, I think. Organizing a hymnal by topic is incredibly helpful for finding new favorites, because you open for your old favorite, and bam, there’s words and a tune you didn’t know and they’re PERFECT. Maybe it’s a God thing.
I have to admit though, this hymn isn’t exactly a slam-dunk with me. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I love the tune! It’s a Victorian era British tune, Jerusalem most commonly associated with the poem by William Blake. I’m not super big on colonialist nationalism… Which means I don’t love most Victorian music. Sorry! However, these words were written specifically for this tune, and you can hear as you sing. The emphases in the poetry and in the musical line match up beautifully. The changes in tone and subject match the wandering harmonies of the second half of the stanza. It’s a very well-crafted hymn by my metrics.
I think it’s 1000% OK as a Christian to NOT be OK. Sometimes we overemphasize verses from the Bible that tell us ‘do not fear’ or ‘trust in God’ and we guilt ourselves for having fear or not being able to see how things are going to work out. That’s just being human, and regardless of our own imperfections, God still loves us. I think God inspired those verses because God really wishes for us to feel OK, but there’s also a realistic acknowledgement that sometimes things aren’t ok. This hymn speaks to having hope in both a personal, inner peace and a world-wide peace, or shalom. This hymn also reminds us of the peace prerequisites: justice, truth, love, end our selfishness, no more envy, reliance on God. God’s there for us when we’re in the middle of catastrophic thinking, convinced this is IT for us/our society/our world. The prescription is this: remind yourself of truth (“right-size” your fear, as I heard John Pavlovitz preach a few months ago), work for justice, love those near you, love yourself enough to root out and let go of your selfishness, envy, hatred. No one, not even God, can change your heart for you. You’ve got to do the work yourself.
I encourage you to hum along and learn the music before you learn the words. It’s a tune worth knowing (and I can’t emphasize this enough, I NEVER say that about Victorian music. Yes, I know he wrote it in 1916, war effort, patriotism, etc. He was trained in the Victorian era and is pretty darn Victorian in his compositional style etc etc.) It’s worth spending some extra time with this someone difficult tune because it’ll be good to stretch yourself musically. And the words fit in so well, and are more easily memorized when sung. But, as the great LeVar Burton says, you don’t have to take my word for it.