My reply to the question “What do you want for Christmas?” started as a joke. “World Peace.” But why joke about it? Why not wish for it in earnest? The human race has never been particularly drawn towards peaceful resolution to anything, and I don’t think we live with more violence now than any time in the past, but that doesn’t make me feel hopeless. As the Bishop of Washington told the congregation at St. Alban’s last Sunday during her visitation, hopelessness isn’t an option for Christians. Because we know and see and experience so many acts of hatred, prejudice, ignorance, or simple unkindness we have all the more reason to hold the hope for peace in our hearts. Not just holding onto that hope, but clinging to it for dear life. Literally.
I cry very easily. You might as well know that about me. And tears invariably come when we sing Hymn 597 (The Hymnal 1982), O day of peace that dimly shines and get to the line in verse 2 that echoes Isaiah’s prophecy, “a little child shall lead them all.” A little child shall lead the wolf and the lamb, the beast and the cattle. A little child shall teach enemies to love and all creatures to find peace. The words, drawn from Isaiah by hymn-writer Carl Daw, are moving of course, but it is the coupling of the words with the tune of British composer Charles Parry that does me in every time. [full text: O day of peace]
Daw himself wanted his words to convey the message that peace is about more than not fighting. It is about truly living “abundantly in harmony and mutual goodwill. Although the text affirms that peace is always God’s gift, it also recognizes the importance of human responsibility in preparing an environment in which peace can flourish,” he said.
I don’t think you could fail to feel nobler, stronger or more deeply impassioned when hearing or singing Parry’s majestic tune from 1916. The words he was setting were those of poet William Blake: “And did those feet in ancient time Walk upon England’s mountains green: And was the holy Lamb of God, On England’s pleasant pastures seen”… an ultimate expression of church + state, not really suitable for American congregations. Carl Daw’s words allow us to step back from the island of peace we might try to create just around ourselves, and think about the possibility of an entire earth where the hope for peace is fulfilled. It begins with a hope, a belief, a wish – clung to in our hearts and minds.