*** At the heart of this hymn is a simple prayer to be spiritually refreshed.O-Hidden-Source-of-love
The words of this hymn are discursive, but the hymn as a whole is a simple prayer.
In essence, the prayer is that of the Samaritan woman who said to Jesus, Sir, give me this water that will become (in me) a spring…gushing up to eternal life (John 4.14b-15). Singers of this hymn identify with that woman, and with the desperate whole congregation of Israel who quarrelled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink’ (Exodus 17.2a). Singers also take on Paul’s Christian standpoint as boasting in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…because God’s love has been poured into hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (Romans 5.3-5).
So the poles of the hymn are the ‘Hidden Source of love’ to whom the prayer is addressed and the ‘thirsty souls’ who ask to be filled ‘with Spirit-grace for life’s long course’.
The ‘Hidden Source of love’ is revealed by Christ as springing up for ‘the world to come’. It is given as more than a single drink: like a great waterfall, it drenches those who seek it. Worshipers who may feel spiritually lost and parched are reassured that God both never ceases to care for creation and is always able to provide for and save the needy.
Taking its cue from Scripture, the hymn portrays our ‘thirsty souls’ as very needy indeed: ‘fill up these empty bowls…’ We are beggars, like Buddhist monks venturing into the streets to ask sustenance from whoever is charitably moved to give to them.
Our neediness is further characterised by means of a shameless pun. We are sinners, having come into sin from the wilderness of Sin – that is, Sinai (Exodus 17.1). There, in our own lives, like the Israelites, we experienced ‘loss and doubt’. By implication, our way into sin is by complaining about our straitened situation, rather than bearing it. Yet we are not defeated, for, although ‘we suffer, and endure, and hope’, we ‘are relieved by love’, and enabled to ‘choose again heaven’s upward slope’.
The lyrics of this hymn feel slightly archaic. The prayer is contemporary, existential, yet the language seems to smack rather of the past; and no more so than in two separate references to ‘souls’. But the soul is real, and is (of course) not an organ that can be detached from a person’s life for examination and analysis, for repair or for transplanting to give new lease of life.
“Authentic religious…practice begins in the attempt to attend to the moment of self-questioning…’The soul’ is what happens in the process of such attention: ‘it is a movement that begins whenever man (sic) experiences the psychological pain of contradiction’… The point of bodily discipline, ascetical training, in this perspective is to provide a ‘routinised’, expected and accepted, experience of contradiction, so that the happening of the soul may build up steadily and consistently.”
The experiences described in each of the Scripture texts are of contradiction, and Romans 5.1-11 perfectly illustrates what it is to expect and accept contradiction so that the soul may happen. ‘Soul’ is thus used as a metaphor for what a person or an institution or a community or a nation is making of their life. Some are thirsty for ‘Spirit-grace’. In others, the ‘blood runs stale’. Either way, ‘soul’ is not simply an image encapsulating the idea of self-improvement. It implies a dialogue with transcendent love. And in the hymn it acknowledges the mysterious character of that love, praying that ‘in the eternal Grail’ (in medieval legend the Grail was the cup from which Jesus gave the wine that is his ‘blood of the new covenant’) ‘all may commune, and human grow’.
The music was conceived in the Kenneth Kettle Building at King Alfred’s College in Winchester. It responds to the unselfconscious goodness of the ‘Hidden Source of love’, and needs to be sung lightly.
 Rowan Williams Lost Icons Edinburgh: T.T.Clark 2000 pp149-150