Proof that this spiritual practice has changed me: Whenever I see an adaptation note at the bottom of the page now, I first go hunt down the original lyrics, because there’s a very good chance we did more than adjust some God, gender, and empire language. And there are times when I find that frustrating, because we’ve changed the meaning and intention, and that does dishonor to the original composer/lyricist. (See, for instance, my frustration with Holy, Holy, Holy.)
However, sometimes the adaptation is welcomed – and in the case of this hymn, quite well done by Beth Ide, who was a minister of religious education.
I’m actually going to start with the original lyric, written by William DeWitt Hyde, a Congregationalist minister who long served as president of Bowdoin College:
Creation’s Lord, we give Thee thanks That this Thy world is incomplete;
That battle calls our marshaled ranks; That work awaits our hands and feet.
That Thou hast not yet finished man; That we are in the making still,
As friends who share the Maker’s plan As sons who know the Father’s will.
Beyond the present sin and shame, Wrong’s bitter, cruel, scorching blight,
We see the beckoning vision flame, The blessèd kingdom of the right.
What though the kingdom long delay, And still with haughty foes must cope?
It gives us that for which to pray, A field for toil and faith and hope.
Since what we choose is what we are, And what we love we yet shall be,
The goal may ever shine afar—The will to win it makes us free.
Rough, eh? I think so. It screams to me of that awful theology based on the Revelation of John that suggests there’s a metric shit-ton of hell to pay at Armageddon; on the plus side, this is saying “Jesus is coming, better get busy doing the ministry while we wait” and not – as modern Dominionists suggest – “Jesus is coming and we’re gonna make the conditions favorable to bring down Armageddon.”
Hyde’s hymn isn’t scary as all that, but it is most certainly not about the god of process theology, who Ide saw in Hyde’s text and in our own theologies. And thus, with some careful editing and some creative loving (see what I did there?) we now have an amazing, if still difficult hymn:
Creative love, our thanks we give that this, our world, is incomplete,
that struggle greets our will to live, that work awaits our hands and feet;
That we are not yet fully wise, that we are in the making still —
as friends who share one enterprise and strive to blend with nature’s will.
What though the future long delay, and still with faults we daily cope?
It gives us that for which to pray, a field for toil and faith and hope.
Since what we choose is what we are, and what we love we yet shall be,
the goal may ever shine afar — the will to reach it makes us free.
Now just because Ide changed the language to reflect a creator god rather than an omnipotent god, this doesn’t mean it’s all light and fluffy. No – this is serious. Here’s what she’s saying: We’re glad there’s work to be done. We are grateful there are still problems in the world for us to respond to. We’re glad to be part of creating the world we want to see. We’re glad the moral arc of the universe is long so we can help build the beloved community, not just benefit from it.
No really, this is what Ide’s adaptation is saying. Think about this for a minute. I know I keep pausing as I write to think about it. That first verse… lord have mercy.
And here, I pause, and I wonder if this is a privileged stance to take.
How would I feel about this if I were a person of color? Would I stop at the first line and say “no, not so much with the incomplete…I’m tired now.” Or…would I approach it with side-eye and an “oh, so you finally figured this out, eh?” Or… would I approach it with some other view, including but not limited to that which I first approached with – the “oh, we get to be part of this creation and try to reach for the big goal.”
I don’t know, but as I write this, I recognize the traps this one may have left for us. (I welcome comments and commentary on this.)
A quick note about the tune, another gorgeous, lush, beautiful melody arranged by the master, Ralph Vaughan Williams. If you don’t know it, listen to the original setting here – the original carol is part of a longer piece called “Fantasia on Christmas Carols.”