dis·con·so·late |disˈkänsəlit|
without consolation or comfort; unhappy : he’d met the man’s disconsolate widow.

From the Oxford American Dictionary.

Sometimes the things that should be most obvious to me aren’t. Take, for example, the hymn “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”. One Sunday at the end of last summer, we sang this hymn at the end of the worship service. It was a pretty standard rendition; I was singing pretty strongly because the melody sat in a good range for me. (The only people in that church who ever really said anything to me were two little old ladies who complimented my singing a couple of times. I think they were glad that someone seated beside them could read the music and teach them an unfamiliar melody.) We arrived at the last stanza and my eyes came upon this verse:

If our love were but more simple,
We should take Him at His word;
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the sweetness of our Lord.

I had to stop singing. I couldn’t sing this in good conscience. I knew that just wasn’t the case. I don’t know what Frederick Faber meant when he wrote that verse, but if I’m understanding the words right it’s simply untrue. Love Jesus as much as I possibly could, and that still wouldn’t mean that my life would be all sunshine. Maybe Faber meant ultimately, I don’t know. But it sure isn’t the case here in the real world. There is suffering, there is pain, there is death. Jesus doesn’t promise that we won’t have suffering but that he’ll be with us in the midst of it:[bibleblock]John 16.33[/bibleblock]

That stanza of the hymn felt so out of place because of its obvious dissonance with real life (and with the testimony of Jesus) and because the previous hymn expressed quite the opposite sentiment. Just after the sermon we had sung a marvelous hymn by Thomas Moore and Thomas Hastings.

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish,
Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel.
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish;
Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.

Here I was in a place where I knew no one, no one said a word to me (except the aforementioned little old ladies), no one knew if I was there or not, but there was hope. It didn’t matter if my life was sunshine or not, I could sing about a wounded heart, sorrow and anguish — the stuff of real life. The world is a screwed up place and God’s okay if we tell him that, it’s not going to offend him.

Joy of the desolate, light of the straying,
Hope of the penitent, fadeless and pure!
Here speaks the Comforter, tenderly saying,
“Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot cure.”

The hymn was great, but the tune…the tune didn’t fit very well at all. For one thing, the word “disconsolate” sounded incredibly happy and resolute…and that’s not what disconsolation is. I suppose that a tune could be written for the song that expressed the triumphant nature of the hymn — that there is triumph because sorrow cannot win, because heartache will end. But that doesn’t really speak to what I heard in the words; I heard a solemn invitation to be healed. I heard a text that needed to be reflected upon, one that would reflect the depths of the sorrow before the light of healing. It’s similar to what I wrote about when I was writing on “From Depths of Woe”. Real problems need a real savior.

Here see the bread of life, see waters flowing
Forth from the throne of God, pure from above.
Come to the feast of love; come, ever knowing
Earth has no sorrow but heaven can remove.

That afternoon I went home and immediately started writing. I wanted to write a tune that would be grave and yet hopeful. The first two lines of the hymn are about languishing, coming to God and kneeling. That’s what I wanted to reflect in the music that I wrote. I hope I captured that in the shift from minor harmonies in the first half of the tune to the major chord that begins the third and fourth lines. Wanting to accurately depict the reflective nature of what I heard in the words, I intentionally wrote very easy, very slow rhythms.

Disconsolation is all over the Psalms and all over the Bible but it’s not all over the songs that we sing as Christians. That’s a shame. When Hannah wept to the Lord because she was barren, she didn’t sing about how her life was sunshine, she was honest. When the slaves cried out in Egypt, God didn’t tell them to make “their love more simple”, he heard them and he sent a deliverer. Perhaps we don’t have a truer picture of God because we don’t bring him our wounded hearts and admit the pain, hurt and sorrow in our lives.

Come, Ye Disconsolate at Psalms and Hymns.com.

Post filed under Hymns, Music.