When life is shaken to its core,
when clouds and storms arrive,
we find it difficult to know
God present in our lives.
Yet there’s no misery or grief,
pain, doubt, or emptiness,
that is not known by the divine
and filled with tenderness.
When we are tempted to give up,
and purpose drains away,
where is the God of hope and joy?
Can peace replace dismay?
God, in the centre of our pain,
makes of our dark a tent,
a holy place of tearfulness
as life splits and fragments.
We need to learn to trust and know
God in our lives, God here
hidden within the clouds and storms,
one with our doubts and fears.
This is our peace: that in the depths
of our adversities
we find a God who shares our pain
and life’s cruel miseries.
Words: © Andrew Brown (November 2019, rev. March 2020)
Metre: 86 86 86 86 (DCM)
Suggested tune: Vox Dilecti (StF 248)
Andrew writes that this hymn “was written to counter the idea that God always brings light and was particularly inspired by this verse from Psalm 18:
He made darkness his hiding place;
his tent was in a circle about him,
dark water in clouds of air.
(Psalm 18 v11, in the Nicholas King translation published by Kevin Mayhew)
The striking image in v2 of the dark tent that becomes a holy place is reminiscent of the Tabernacle (“dwelling place”, a tent or covering) of the Ark of the Covenant described in the book of Exodus.
That verse begins with an acknowledgement that in complicated – perhaps overwhelming – times, a sense of purpose may, for many, be hard to hold on to. We feel more vulnerable, and the task of finding a way forward becomes tougher. Andrew then develops the tent image to suggest that in times of tearfulness and vulnerability (when “life splits and fragments”), holiness may nevertheless be experienced. When we know we’re not invulnerable, new insights and experiences surface.
In v3, there are echoes, also, of William Cowper’s’ hymn, God moves in a mysterious way (StF 104), with its resonant descriptions of “the clouds you so much dread” which, even so, “are big with mercy”. “Behind a frowning providence”, Cowper continues, God “hides a smiling face”. This allusion to God’s “frown” is also picked up in Andrew Pratt’s post-resurrection hymn What peace is there for tarnished lives (website only).
In the hymns of both Andrews, as well as William Cowper's, there is an assertion of trust in God’s continuing presence “within the clouds and storms”.