New hymns respond to need for healing
By TAMIE ROSS
NASHVILLE -- In the aftermath
of one of the world's deadliest natural disasters, complexities
How will we help care for the injured and orphaned? Assist in burying the dead? Bring food and healing and hope to survivors in the 12 countries touching the Indian Ocean, where more than 150,000 people have died and many more have lost so much?
Beyond the call for prayer, donations and manpower, some United Methodists said they have been moved to bring an offering of song to those who are suffering as a result of the Dec 26, 2004 earthquake and tsunami.
It seems so simple, the concept that a hymn could create healing when wounds are deep and raw. Yet Mr Dean McIntyre, Director of Music Resources for the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, said the musical scores arriving at his office brought a wonderful opportunity for expression to those who would hear and sing them, as well as healing to their authors.
"Hymns help us to pray when we cannot pray for ourselves," he said. "That the creative process can be put to use to allow them some personal healing and insight ... it transcends the personal experience and becomes explicable to us all."
He and Mr David L. Bone, Executive Director of the Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts, said they had also received many original hymns after the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America.
The expression of grief and healing through hymn writing is steeped in history. Horatio Spafford wrote the popular hymn, "It Is Well With My Soul", after learning his four daughters had drowned during an ocean voyage from England to Europe.
The Rev Gareth Hill, 48, is a full-time minister for the Cornwall Methodist District in Britain. He penned his hymn, "When Innocence is Fractured", days after the tsunami hit.
He said that music was the link between his past and future, when he worked as a journalist before entering the ministry several years go. During his vocational transition, he wrote songs and hymns to express thoughts and give them structure.
"As well as being only too aware of the horror that the tsunami confronted us with, I wanted to say something positive for Christians ... to make some kind of declaration that the waves couldn't sweep away faith," he said.
The last line of his four-stanza hymn, sung to the familiar Aurelia tune ("The Church's One Foundation"), reads: "In Christ our souls take refuge, though not to hide from truth; We face each anguished question with faith, if not with proof. We hear his wistful question, 'And will you leave me, too?' Though all the world should crumble, we hope, O Christ, in you."
Another British Methodist minister, the Rev Andrew Pratt of Manchester, has written four hymns since the tsunami disaster. Writing hymns is something he does to help keep his emotions in check after a tragedy, since losing his 22-year-old son in an accident five years ago.
A trained marine biologist, he said he understood something of the science involved in this disaster. Still, he has no answers to the suffering, as he writes in, "In Every Face We See the Pain" -- "Then give us strength to rise again, enlivened by your hope, and for the present show your love and give us grace to cope."
Like the Rev Pratt, Ms Dianne Empringham was affected by television reports showing tsunami victims and survivors caught in murky water. Though she had never written a hymn, she was moved to write "We Cry Out To You" in hopes that she could bring healing to fellow members of St Paul United Methodist Church in Conroe, Texas.
"I was touched so deeply that it was easier for me to write this," she said.
Mr Dave Liles is another first-time hymn writer. As Choir Director of First United Methodist Church in Mansfield, Ohio, he said he was more comfortable leading hymns.
But when he read the Rev Randy Day's prayer earlier this year -- "A Prayer from a Heart in Pain" -- a prayer that matched Mr Liles' own questioning of the large-scale loss of life, he was inspired to put down his baton and pick up a pen. The Rev Day is the General Secretary of The United Methodist Church's General Board of Global Ministries, and his prayer was published in last month's issue of Methodist Message (MM, March 2005: Page 15). -- United Methodist News Service.
Tamie Ross is a freelance journalist based in Dallas.