*** This hymn reflects sceptically on the vision of peace in Isaiah 11.1-10, suspecting with Sportin’ Life in Porgy and Bess that “It ain’t necessarily so”.Shall-the-wolf-live-with-the-lamb
An inspiring vision for the healing of creation. The healing agent will be a shoot…come out from the stock of Jesse, whose delight shall be in the fear of the Lord, and who shall decide with equity for the meek of the earth.
Throughout history, people have responded to this prophecy either by the prayer “Come, Lord, come!” accompanied by the question, “How long, O Lord?” or by a range of sceptical reactions. One of the mildest sceptical reactions is Sportin’ Life’s, in ‘Porgy and Bess’: “It ain’t necessarily so”. Shall the wolf really live with lamb, the leopard lie down with the kid? This hymn is composed from that position of doubt.
We live with the question: does doubting have to lead inevitably to unbelief? The issue was clearly set forth by a French philosopher, Albert Camus during the Second World War. Writing to a Nazi with whom he had been friends before the war, he remembered that they had both believed that life is absurd, without any meaning. ‘So wherein’, he asked, ‘lay the difference between us?’ He said that the Nazi had given in to hopelessness, and thereby permitted himself to support inhuman policies and to commit inhuman actions. Camus, for his part, even though he could make no sense of life nor see any good future, simply refused to believe that this was the truth; he was committed to seeing a world in which human beings behaved with proper respect for all life.
The deep heart of this hymn is verse 6, for it declares that Christ has ‘slaked our thirst for blood’. This assertion is the ground of Christian faith. It maintains that, because of what is sometimes called ‘the Christ event’, culminating in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the direction of life – human life in the first instance – has been radically changed for the better. In the face of every law that persuades or obliges people to think that people who are different from us are potential enemies and can ultimately be disposed of, Christian faith says that everyone in the world is capable of repenting, and of building and nurturing peaceful co-existence with all people and all creatures.
This hymn is open to the complaint that it contains explicit references to topical conflicts; surely hymns deal with ‘eternal’, not temporal matters! – with theology, not politics! Rather than enter that debate (this is not the place), I offer the hope that verses 3, 4, and 5, composed in 1996, will have only a short ‘shelf-life’; may the ancient conflicts referred to there be soon resolved. Whether or not we live to see resolutions of these conflicts, there will always be conflicts, some remote, some very local, that need to be held in prayer; and, if in prayer generally, why not in the specific kind of prayer that is a hymn?
A glossary may be helpful. ‘Goy’ (verse 3) is a Jewish word for Gentile (ie non-Jew). In verse 4 ‘Prod’ is a Protestant, and ‘Taig’ is a Roman Catholic. In verse 5 ‘LGBs’ are lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, and ‘straights’ are heterosexual people.
SCHUTZ, the name given to the music, is a German word, meaning ‘protection’, ‘defence’; in itself it expresses a prayer that is implied by this hymn: that people who are imprisoned within the logics of conflict may be saved from conflicts’ bloody conclusions.
The music itself is nervous, almost febrile in character, with chromatic phrases tying thought and feeling to the sense of crisis that blights the lives of millions. Yet the third line of music speaks dependably of comfort, and leads a way through the midst of distress towards a safer world.