This week’s hymn is one I was only vaguely familiar with. The tune was written by Charles H. C. Zeuner in 1832 and I believe has been used several times with different texts. It has a strange feeling rhythmically, but as I’ve played it, there is something quite mesmerizing about its lilt.
The words were written by William M. Vories in 1908. Vories has an interesting story. He was born in the United States, was an educator, architect and lay minister. In 1905 he moved to Japan where he opened an architectural office and eventually married a Japanese woman and became a citizen. He founded a mission in Japan dedicated to education and businesses in the fields of architecture, medicine and medical treatment with the practice of investing profits into the local community. It is said that he owned no property in his lifetime and spent his time contributing to those around him. This cross-cultural and generous spirit is quite evident in these words.
Let there be light, Lord God of hosts!
Let there be wisdom on the earth!
Let broad humanity have birth!
Let there be deeds, instead of boasts!
Within our passioned hearts instill
the calm that ends all strain and strife.
Make us thy ministers of life.
Purge us from lusts that curse and kill!
Give us the peace of vision clear
to see each other’s good, our own,
To joy and suffer not alone:
the love that casteth out all fear!
Let woe and waste of warfare cease,
that useful labor yet may build
its homes with love and laughter filled!
God, give your wayward children peace!
When I read these words, I am drawn to the ideas of light and wisdom. There is an implication of a need to open our eyes and see what we are as humanity – broadly. A need to open our minds and take in the experiences of our ancestors and those across the seas; the experiences of our neighbours and those we do not yet know; the experiences of all who are beautifully different and wonderfully the same.
These words are a prayer asking for the establishment of peace. But they are not the words of one who is idle in this desire. There is an understanding that it is through our deeds, our ability to see other’s and our own good, our useful labour, and our passionate hearts that homes filled with love and laughter emerge – and, ultimately, peace. All these things together make us ministers of life. What a phrase! A minister is simply one who attends to the needs of others. Being a minister of life is the deliberate act of contributing to the enrichment of another’s experience. The ways in which we can do this are endless.
It is quite amazing to me that these old hymn texts still ring true so many years later. It doesn’t matter to me that this writer had a particular religious perspective, it matters to me that he was interested in searching for the way to peace. It is a search that many of us continue – both personally and on a more global scale. I suspect his notion that we must be active in this search is accurate. It is not enough to ponder and discuss. Our actions contribute to the construction of the roads on which we walk, the paths that others find behind us, the ability for all to find a way forward. What matters is how we walk through our lives.
Our lives are not about solving all the problems of this world. But we can all be ministers of life. Finding ways to lay our own special bricks in the foundation of peace for all. Some of us will lay many bricks, others few. Some of the bricks have the strength needed for foundations that stand the test of time. Others are the special decorative bricks that provide beauty and interest. Others are the corners that keep things aligned. Others have no bricks, but provide the mortar that holds it all together. Some design, some find the best sites on which to build, some oversee the construction, some bring water when the builders are thirsty. Some encourage and offer gratitude. We are actively the many pieces of this puzzle that can emerge as love, as laughter and as peace.
Ministers of life. Together – all the wayward children.
Let there be light.
Let there be wisdom.
Let there be peace.