It is not unusual to observe that life is completely unfair. It is not difficult to look at what is going on in our world and be convinced of this fact. We see it in the lives of friends, relatives and strangers who are faced with challenges far beyond what they deserve, sometimes far beyond our own. Perhaps we experience this truth ourselves, endlessly pursued by trials that feel as though our last bit of energy is being drained. Sometimes we are faced with moments of sheer terror at what is to come, or what we hope, pray and wish will never be. Heavy burdens abound.
As I read through the words of this hymn, I was struck by the depth of understanding the writer had of both the reality of life’s unfairness and the value of compassion, mercy and love in girding ourselves against whatever comes our way. The words are not very old, written in 1961 by Albert F. Bayly. I couldn’t find much information about Bayly, other than that he was an English minister who is said to have been a gracious and humble man, who loved painting, music, astronomy, literature, gardening and walking. His words are quite beautiful.
Lord, whose love in humble service
Bore the weight of human need,
Who upon the cross, forsaken,
Worked your mercy’s perfect deed;
We, your servants, bring the worship
Not of voice alone, but heart,
Consecrating to your purpose
Every gift which you impart.
Still your children wander homeless;
Still the hungry cry for bread.
Still the captives long for freedom,
Still in grief we mourn our dead.
As you, Lord, in deep compassion,
Healed the sick and freed the soul,
By your Spirit send your power
To our world and make it whole.
As we worship, grant us vision,
Till your love’s revealing light
In its height and depth and greatness
Dawns upon our quickened sight,
Making known the needs and burdens
Your compassion bids us bear,
Stirring us to ardent service,
Your abundant life to share.
I don’t know if Bayly suffered many tragedies, but he clearly understood that we should be aware of those suffered by others. We should be aware. The notion that love is a revealing light is exceptionally powerful. In a society where love is often defined as a superficial feeling, these words challenge us to consider it as a means of giving us vision; giving us the ability to see what is going on around us. This powerful love, in this case emerging from God, is one that bears these weights. In a world that is broken. Still.
For me, the second verse is the most wrenching. Homelessness, hunger, captivity, grief, sickness and weary souls. They are with us – still. We see these things. In the lives of the people we know, in the spectacle of world politics, in our communities, in the news. It would be difficult to claim a lack of awareness in this age of hyper media access and constant connections.
Life can be abundant in many, many ways. Despite its unfairness. But sharing that abundance can also be difficult. Possibly because we define abundance in such small ways. Partly because we are self-focused and a bit greedy. Partly because we simply don’t know how to tackle the problems we see. But, I love the words spoken here that say we are to be stirred to ardent service. Ardent is not a word we use all that often, but it’s a good one. Implying passionate enthusiasm. Imagine if our service was driven by this kind of exuberance; imagine if service was a broadly valued attribute – the measure of success. Perhaps that’s not a very humble idea, but it’s a thought.
This hymn is about the power of love. The way love can open our eyes not only to that which is beautiful, but that which is not. The way love is a magnificent tool in combatting the unfairness of life and the challenges that are faced by us all. If we choose to use it with our voices, our hearts and our actions. Looking for and understanding the needs we see, choosing its strength to bear those needs and ardently serving the ultimate goal of healing our broken world.
It’s a tall order. But a life lived with compassion is one made up of small steps. Millions of them. Listening to someone’s pain or fears. Being present in a conversation. Accepting help. Challenging injustice. Welcoming the oppressed. Celebrating in someone else’s way of experiencing the world, their culture, their understanding of the Divine.
Not one of us can repair all the brokenness that we see every day. But all of us can begin to rebuild one tiny corner – in the words we speak, the choices we make, the support we offer, the gratitude we express and the kindness we extend. And, all of us can begin to rebuild one tiny corner – in the words we hear, the choices we observe, the support we accept, the thanks we’re given and the kindness we receive.
Love is a humble servant. It bears the weight of all our needs. Share it, accept it and feel its power. In its truest form, it gives purpose and abundance. In its truest form, our choice to wield it will make our world whole.