The Hymns We Sing

The Hymns We Sing

Hymn #713
Title: Touch the Earth Lightly
Author: Shirley Erena Murray (b. 1931)

The opening line of this hymn by a New Zealand author is drawn from an Australian aboriginal saying, which in turn is paraphrased by the next two lines. The second stanza turns to threats to our fragile earth, especially the “clouds of disaster” resulting form the continuing nuclear testing by France in the Pacific. The third stanza contemplates how the planet can be regenerated by “greening.” The final stanza offers a prayer to the God of life and love, asking for divine intervention to teach, redirect, reconnect, and unite human beings.

Much of the energy of this text comes from the author’s decision to treat what could have been as 5.5.10.D. Those short lines significantly help to propel each stanza forward. They also work well with the author’s characteristic love of slant rhymes, because they do not have to carry the weight of a longer line’s expectations. (This observation is corroborated by noticing that the two ten-syllable lines always end with exact rhymes.) Thematically, the short lines also allow for the expansion of ideas, so that each adjacent phrase opens up potential in the one before. The total effect is something like a kaleidoscopic flowering of successive phrases.

Although this text does not paraphrase Scripture, it is very much operating in terms of an idealized Edenic model. It calls attention to how far human stewardship has allowed (or caused) the state of the earth to decline from its original condition. Even a simple phrase like “God’s garden” (3.4) can evoke a many-layered narrative such as Genesis 1.1–3.24. Similarly, a phrase like “God’s children” (3.5) can be understood as an allusion to 1 John 3:2 or possibly to Acts 17:29 and can have both specific and general applications. The prayer for unity in the last line (4:6) echoes Christ’s own prayer in John 17:11, 21-23.

-From Glory to God: A Companion by Carl P Daw, Jr.

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