As an early stage of my project to write a scriptural index to Singing the Living Tradition, I am going through the Episcopal scriptural index to that church’s hymnal, in order to see if any of their hymns are also in our hymnal. (This is more tedious than it sounds, since the Episcopal index is by scriptural passage, not by hymn–I look up each individual hymn number to see what it is.)
Yesterday, I found this lovely hymn, number 379 in The Hymnal 1982:
God is Love; let heaven adore him;
God is Love, let earth rejoice;
let creation sing before him
and exalt him with one voice.
God who laid the earth’s foundation,
God who spread the heavens above,
God who breathes through all creation:
God is Love, eternal Love.
God is Love; and love enfolds us,
all the world in one embrace:
with unfailing grasp God holds us,
every child of every race.
And when human hearts are breaking
under sorrow’s iron rod,
then we find that self-same aching
deep within the heart of God.
God is Love; and though with blindness
sin afflicts all human life,
God’s eternal loving-kindness
guides us through our earthly strife.
Sin and death and hell shall never
o’er us final triumph gain;
God is Love, so Love for ever
o’er the universe must reign.
It was written by Timothy Rees (1874-1939), (”alt.,” the note under the hymn states–hymns are routinely altered for hymnals to fit the theology or ethics of a particular movement or time). Rees was the Bishop of Llandaff in Wales in the 1930s for the Church of England. In The Hymnal 1982, the hymn is set to “Abbot’s Leigh” by Cyril Vincent Taylor (1907-1991).
To me, it is a beautiful, singable hymn with thoroughly Universalist theology. It captures the theistic, Universalist strand in our Unitarian Universalist heritage. For use in a Unitarian Universalist service, I might try to find a way to either eliminate the gendered language in the first stanza, or include female references to the divine (see what I mean about altering hymns?). I don’t have any pre-merger Universalist hymnals–I wonder if this was ever included in one?