Holy Spirit, groaning

*** This hymn, an unfolding of Romans 8.22-30, was written to be sung as a four-part round, with the singers surrounding the congregation so as to help them join in.. It can be accompanied by up to four descanting instruments (eg violin, flute).


Holy Spirit, groaning.midi


We know that the whole of creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8. 22-23)

“Groaning” can mean ‘moaning’ or ‘complaining’; but not here. Here the sense expresses ‘deep longing’, ‘yearning’. Paul is confident that the future of life is to be immeasurably richer than it is at present; but not by the waving of a wand, for immense travail is involved.

This hymn draws heavily on this text, and also on verses 26-30 from the same chapter. Those verses tell of the Holy Spirit helping us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. The hymn exercises some licence in paraphrasing sighs too deep for words as ‘groaning’ also.

There are two striking images, neither of them biblical.

‘…cloning’ attempts to express the idea that those who suffer with Christ may also be glorified with him (8.16-17). These are not persons who slavishly imitate the details of a Christ-template. ‘Cloning’ in this context is a theological idea. It asserts that human beings are most fully free when they find themselves in Christ’s own freedom; which is the life of the Trinity, whose overflow is the love in creation. Christians look, sound, behave like Christ Jesus, and share in the joy of God; or, since that does not quite square with experience: Christians are being cloned so that they come to look, sound, and behave like the first-born and goal of all creation.

‘…honing’ speaks of the long growth to holiness which is what results from the Holy Spirit’s work in human lives. Like a protracted game of Snakes and Ladders, we advance and we fall down, over and over. But, whereas in the game, sliding down the snake is wholly negative and it is the throw of dice that determines whether or not we attain the goal, in the spiritual life falling us teaches more and more of the depth and power of God’s grace. The Holy Spirit is shaping us through all our experience of life, sometimes gently, sometimes brutally, into the likeness of Christ.

The melody line evokes a sense of sighing and groaning. Superficially, it seems to go round and round and get nowhere. But there is a forward movement, and this is indicated also by the words. This is not a hymn of triumph. If anything, it reminds us of the call to go on patiently, embracing and enduring whatever crosses our path.