Scripture invites us, creatures of God, to join the whole creation in singing. Psalm 96 calls us to “Sing a new song… all the earth.” Our songs join the trees of the wood, the thundering seas, and the joyful fields.
As we approach the October 4th commemoration of St. Francis of Assisi, worshipping communities may be considering how best to focus on creation care in worship and in daily life. Although we often highlight ecological concerns on specific days and seasons, raising our voices with and behalf of creation is best an on-going practice.
Several hymns and songs in All Creation Sings call forth our praise for the wonders of the natural world. Yet creation also cries out in lament (Romans 8:22-23). Hymn writer Jeannette Lindholm has written the hymn “Before the Waters Nourished Earth.” Included in the Lament section of ACS, its creation imagery abounds.
Before the waters nourished earth or night imagined morning,
a Love conceived the universe and reveled in its forming.
This Love remained as time revealed the loss of Eden’s glory
and, grieving, holds in memory each tragic human story.
Lindholm wrote this text for a memorial service of a friend who had died by suicide. At this friend’s funeral, Psalm 23 was read. Lindholm chose the tune ST.COLUMBA to pair with her new hymn with the hope it would call to mind “The King of Love, My Shepherd Is.” Perhaps singing that tune suggests the verdant pastures and still waters of Psalm 23. Indeed, the universe formed is one of beauty even amid tragic loss. This is the universe that holy Love conceived and in which Wisdom delights. (Proverbs 8:22-31)
Yet as this hymn’s origin and its words convey, we grieve. Waters dry up. Pastures flood. Fires decimate forests. Our delight turns to horror as we witness the catastrophic effects of climate change, especially in places around the world too easily forgotten or neglected. And as creatures, we grieve for ourselves and those we love, especially when death comes too soon. Holy Love, though, holds every story, even the ones we skim over or want or omit entirely.
Despair, so deep it bears no name, or sorrows paralyzing
cannot revoke Love’s faithful claim to dwell within our dying.
When hearing the groans of creation, we too readily tune out. Sorrows can keep us stuck in patterns of injustice; climbing death tolls from a pandemic become numbers on a page or screen. It is all too much. And yet: there is nowhere we can go where God does not dwell. (Psalm 139)
The final stanza of this hymn expresses hope amid another grief: our inability to join creation’s song as a full body of singers, gathered in community, delighting in one another’s presence.
The Love that called creation good all goodness still is bringing.
This Love turns death again to life and silence into singing.
The hopeful, soaring quality of ST. COLUMBA renews our faith that silence will not be the end. The friend of the hymn writer who inspired this hymn’s creation was a choral director and singer and Lindholm had her beautiful singing voice in mind as she wrote this final stanza.
As promised in Revelation, at the end all creatures will gather in song. Our songs of lament tell the truth of the despair and destruction within and without. We need to voice such lament to God in prayer and song. Yet we pray that as God promised, Holy Love dwelling within and among us will do a new thing. That new songs will spring forth. May it be so.
Before the Waters Nourished Earth
Text: Jeannette M. Lindholm, b. 1961
Music: Irish Melody
Text © 1996 Jeannette M. Lindholm, admin. Augsburg Fortress.
Permission required for further use by contacting Augsburg Fortress or One License