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UM Communications (General Conference 2012)

“Above all sing spiritually,” John Wesley directed early Methodists. In addition to worship, selections in the United Methodist Hymnal present an opportunity to teach, preach, and discuss social power, hope, hurt, exclusion, and inclusion. These songs and readings address themes important in the context of disability awareness.

The list and evaluations of the United Methodist Hymnal below were compiled by Tim Vermande and Lynn Swedberg, with assistance from Jackson Day, Evy McDonald, Eric Pridmore, Deb Wade, Robert Walker, and Nancy Webb. We add another section listing choices from The Faith We Sing,  which often has more contemporary songs and language, and conclude with some links for further reading.

United Methodist Hymnal

#58: “O For a Thousand Tongues To Sing”: autobiographical work by Charles Wesley. The eschatological images of healing — “leap ye lame for joy”— are painful to some, even as they are a sign of hope to others.
#89 “Joyful Joyful, We Adore Thee”: an inclusive hymn, with a joyful tune from Ludwig van Beethoven’s 9th symphony, written when he was totally Deaf.
#111 “How Can We Name a Love”: seeks wider, modern expressions of God’s inclusiveness.
#114 “Many Gifts, One Spirit”: use as a springboard to discuss including the gifts of all, whatever they are, and extend our ideas beyond the typical thinking of gifts.
#140 “Great is Thy Faithfulness”: this hymn reminds us of God’s presence at all times. Its scriptural allusions are strong to those who have lost hope.
#178 “Hope of the World”: refers to Christ as compassionate, and calls for return of loving mercy to all.
#183 “Jesu, Thy Boundless Love to Me”: published without a tune, this work reflects on hope, the value of love, and the reality that lies beyond physical, sensory perception.
#261 “Lord of the Dance”: refers to stories of Jesus healing on the sabbath, and responds “the holy people said it was a shame.” Disability awareness work may be counter-cultural in the religious sphere, where the healing and restorative works of Jesus were often the subject of controversy.
#262 “Heal Me, Hands of Jesus”: the sequence is healing and then cleansing. Depending on the context, this may require attention in a preface or sermon. Healing and a physical (or mental) cure are not always the same.
#263 “When Jesus the Healer Passed Through Galilee”: this hymn also seems to equate healing with cure. There are no links to wider concerns of inviting people with disabilities into an inclusive community.
#264 “Silence, Frenzied, Unclean Spirit”: emphasizes that healing is wholeness and not merely cure. Links the demons of the Gospels to fears that may manifest when people with disabilities appear in social settings.
#265 “O Christ, the Healer”: this hymn provides an opportunity to ask what healing is. It concludes that “wholeness is our deepest need.”
#332 “Spirit of Faith, Come Down”: with “give us eyes to see / who did for every sinner die,” Wesley, as is often the case, extends both need of healing and offer of grace to all. Instead of using blindness as a metaphor for the lack of spiritual vision, he refers to taking away a veil from our sight.
#351 “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior”: Frances Jane “Fanny” Crosby Van Alstyne wrote poetry, secular songs, magazine articles, and hymns. Often described as blind, improper medical treatment permanently damaged her eyesight during infancy. In 1864, she claimed conversion at a Methodist service and sensed a call to hymn-writing. A prolific writer, she published several articles and about 8000 hymns. The publisher, Biglow and Main, purchased 5,959 from her. This hymn’s images come from Luke 18.35, and seem to be autobiographical. They express hope for a miraculous cure, doubts when there is none, and resolution to trust and seek only Christ. Christ, not a cure, brings ultimate relief and comfort.
#363 “And Can It Be that I Should Gain” (Charles Wesley): “Long my imprisoned spirit lay / fast bound in sin and nature’s night / thine eye diffused a quickening ray / I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; / my chains fell off, / my heart was free . . .” uses a strikingly different metaphor for lack of spiritual sight than many other hymns.
#369 “Blessed Assurance”: Most of Crosby’s hymns are personal, which is typical of her time. They reflect testimony, and understanding when approached as a person expanding the roles allowed for people with disabilities (and for women). “Blessed Assurance” (369) claims divine inspiration, showing the Spirit is available to women, and people with disabilities, as well as men. This personal form, however, generates much “me” language that can isolate people from the community, so seeking a balance is important.
#378 “Amazing Grace”: Although popular far beyond religious circles, two images in this hymn are problematic. First, the “amazing” part of grace is that it came to a “wretch,” a person traditionally considered outside the boundaries of divine love. Wesleyan theology teaches the availability of grace to all. Second, the line “I once was lost, but now am found / was blind, but now I see” equates human blindness with sin. This equation can be exacerbated when singing to other tunes which repeat the line, such as the “Gilligan’s Island” theme. We suggest an amendment to the last line of “I slept, but now I wake.”
#419 “I am Thine, O Lord”: This hymn veers closely to Calvinist theology where grace is only offered to the elect. It also offers salvation and includes instructions to newcomers. This hymn portrays a longing for heaven, which is where present joy will be complete (Wesleyan). Bodily images are of being drawn or led down a path, which one expected of a blind person who has “heard” the divine call. Crosby included references to sight. Her blindness was not total; she could discern dark and light, and large objects. Thus her soul couls “look up” with “hope” of better vision some day.
#425-450, the section “Social Holiness“: these hymns counter much of the hyper-individualism that pervades culture in general. As such, they remind us churches are communities. Being a complete body of Christ implies inclusion of everyone, whatever their mental or physical capabilities. The section counters escapism of Romantic hymnody.
#505 “When Our Confidence is Shaken”: Green’s hymns draw on modern (if no longer contemporary) idioms, and speak to current concerns. In this hymn, “when the spirit in its sickness seeks but cannot find a cure / God is active in the tensions of a faith not yet mature” speak to the limited finite understanding of the infinite. It reassures us that we are accepted, and we do not need to have final answers to every question.
#507 “Through It All”#560 “Help Us Accept Each Other”: This hymn needs to move, not drag. It presents a useful reflection on mutual acceptance, hinting at the “forgive as we are forgiven” petition of the Lord’s Prayer.
#562 “Jesus, Lord, We Look to Thee”
#581 “Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service”: This hymn mentions healing as a compassionate act. A word emphasizing the distinction of healing and freedom from cure is again worthwhile.
#592 “When the Church of Jesus”
#593 “Here I Am, Lord”
#605 “Wash, O God, Our Sons and Daughters”
#666 “Shalom to You”

The Faith We Sing

#2032 “My Life Is in You, Lord”
#2051 “I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry”
#2052 “The Lone, Wild Bird”
#2095 “Star-Child”
#2128 “Come and Find the Quiet Center”
#2175 “Together We Serve”
##2181 “We Need a Faith”
#2184 “Sent Out in Jesus’ Name”
#2211 “Faith Is Patience in the Night”
#2223 “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love”
#2224 “Make Us One”
#2225 “Who Is My Mother, Who Is My Brother” View  Audio and signed version of #2225
#2228 “Sacred the Body”
#2237 “As a Fire is Meant for Burning”
#2238 “In the Midst of New Dimensions”
#2243 “We All Are One in Mission”
#2249 “God Claims You”

Further reading