STJ#1026, If Every Woman in the World

Among the lessons I have learned during this spiritual practice is that the hymnals of a denomination reflect history. Yes, there’s theological history, and certainly musical history, but there’s also a reflection of political and cultural history, if you pay attention.

Singing the Living Tradition reflects the world as it was in the early 1990s – the cold war had just ended but we still had all those nukes around. Apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela had been freed, but we were embroiled in the first Gulf War with no clear objective or victory in sight. Hence, we have in that hymnal a number of songs about world peace and getting along with one another, along with the emphasis on humanism and other kinds of inclusion.

Singing the Journey, produced 12 years later, reflects the times as well, most particularly the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in 2001. Hence, we have in this hymnal supplement more songs about world peace and getting along with one another, along with an expanding emphasis on nature-based religions and musical multi-culturalism.

It is this thought that brings us to today’s hymn, an anti-war song that must have felt vital to the STJ hymnal commission. It was written by West Virginia singer-songwriter Karen Mackay, to express her “strong belief in the power of women to influence global culture and bring peace to the world.” It’s got a simple, Appalachian gospel melody that’s easy to pick up and harmonize with, and except for the lack of a verse that expands the gender spectrum, it’s a rather wonderful anti-war song – a perfect addition (especially that last verse) in those first years after 9/11.

If ev’ry woman in the world had her mind set on freedom,
if ev’ry woman in the world dreamed a sweet dream of peace,
if ev’ry woman of ev’ry nation,
young and old, each generation,
held her hands out in the name of love,
there would be no more war.

If ev’ry man in the world had his mind set on freedom,
if ev’ry man in the world dreamed a sweet dream of peace,
if ev’ry man of ev’ry nation,
young and old, each generation,
held his hands out in the name of love,
there would be no more war.
If ev’ry leader in the world shared a vision,
if ev’ry leader in the world shared a sweet dream of peace,
if ev’ry leader of ev’ry nation,
young and old, each generation,
worked for justice and liberation,
holding hands out in the name of love,
there would be no more war.

If ev’ry nation in the world set a true course for freedom,
if ev’ry nation raised its children in a culture of peace,
if all our sons and all our daughters
reached in friendship across the waters,
refusing to be enemies,
there would be no more war.

When I first learned this song in 2005, it felt very fresh and prescient. But like many of our hymns that reflect the times (in both current hymnals), it now feels a bit dated and out of fashion. I started singing this song and wishing that we had verses about today’s problems, because I love it but I am not feeling the need to sing about warring nations right now – there are more pressing issues.

Do note: I’m not advocating not having them – because heaven knows when the next war will erupt, and it will be good to have these songs at the ready. It’s just interesting to note how history informs song choices.

And so the final question, then, is what political and cultural events will shape the next hymnal? Certainly the specter of all-out war doesn’t loom as sharply (except when our Twitter feeds are filled with ill-advised taunts to North Korea); we are much more concerned with the wars at home – black lives matter, immigration justice, health care, financial inequality, feminism, the First Nations, etc. What will our new hymnody look like? And how dated will it feel a dozen years on?

Or is that the cross hymnals in a living tradition bear – that the moment they’re published they are in some ways already out of date?  It’s not a bad problem to have, but it does mean we must pay more and more attention to the new music coming out to fill those gaps between printed books.

Image is of a peace pole in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

2 Comments

Leave a Reply