- Singing the Faith: 700
- Shirley Murray
- “Empathy” by Ian P. Render
Suitable for marking Women Against Violence Sunday or when responding to upsetting or disturbing news items in our worship. This hymn is a reminder of theologian Karl Barth’s advice: to “take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”* Here is a hymn text that holds the two together in tension.
Consider placing a newspaper alongside a Bible at the front of the church before singing this hymn.
You may wish to allow a period of silent reflection before and / or following the singing of this hymn.
A little like Graham Kendrick’s Beauty for brokenness (StF 693) but in a very different style, Shirley Erena Murray pares down her message to a series of succinct phrases. And the message is this: that God is not a distant, disinterested entity but a being who feels what we feel and who waits patiently - agonisingly - for us to heal the world in which we live.
Shirley Erena Murray describes this hymn, written in 1994, as “a protest at violence, including child abuse and the battering of women, as well as violence on a world scale”.
It is also an emphatic rebuttal of the idea that such experiences are part of God’s plan. Even if it were possible to “grow stronger” as a result of abuse, violence, pain or hunger, God desires none of it. It’s not what God had in mind when God created the world and declared it “good”. Moreover, God does not observe such experiences in a detached way, from a great distance; God (as Jesus once was) is close by us, experiencing the abuse, violence, pain or hunger – and it makes God weep.
Verse 4 alludes to hearts “hard as stone” (God waits for them to melt) and reinforces the message that it is up to us all to change (the way we love, the way we win, the way we care). Peace is “seeded”: naturally, apparently randomly, caught as it were by the wind; but also because we plant it, because we “understand the Christ” and act intentionally as a result.
Meanwhile – because there’s a long way to go – God waits.
* Time Magazine Friday, 31 May, 1963 (Read an extract from Barth’s interview here.)