Here’s another hymn I might have noticed if the title wasn’t just the first few words – and one I now plan to use.
One of my regular readers, Kaye, has remarked more than once that using the first line rather than the actual (or at least more meaningful) title often leads us to ignore good hymns because the first few words don’t capture what the hymn is really about. I agree.
What I also didn’t know is that if you’re theologically minded, this is kind of a shit-stirrer of a hymn. Remember when we sang all those nature songs and talked about nature is the gateway for the Transcendentalists to find truth and meaning? Well, Hosea Ballou II, grandnephew of the Universalist theologian he was named for, shoots an arrow into that perspective, saying ‘yeah, as cool as nature is, it’s nothing compared to compassion and service to others. Take that, tree huggers.’ Okay, maybe he didn’t exactly say that – but close. He definitely brings us back to humanity in a gorgeous counterpoint to the ‘nature’s everything and we are nothing’ sentiment that sometimes shows up (I’m lookin’ at you, Whittier).
Bright those jewels of the skies which in sable darkness glow.
Brighter in compassion’s eyes are the silent tears which flow.
Sweet the fragrance from the fields where abundant spices grow.
Sweeter far is that which yields comfort to the sick and low.
Grateful are those gentle dews on the greening grass which fall.
Far more grateful what renews comforts to the poor who call.
What I like about this is it isn’t ‘screw the earth, people are all that matter’ – it’s ‘wow, this planet is so amazing, and how more amazing still is compassion? yeah!’ … all set to a medieval French melody that’s lovely and sweet to sing.
I’m a fan. And I had no idea.