I didn’t make it to church last Sunday, but the week before we sang “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” and I’ve been humming it ever since.
This is not really a problem, because it’s a hymn I’m fond of (which isn’t always the case with the more modern tunes), but it’s got me thinking, because when I first heard it, years ago (and had not yet seen the text), I thought the first words were, “There’s a wildness in God’s mercy, like the wildness of the sea … ”
While mercy may not generally be thought of as wild, the idea appeals to me, and I’m not sure I don’t like it better than the “real” version, because it has a feeling of something untamed, and I don’t think God is tame-able – though God knows, we try. There’s a human tendency to want to make God manageable – we are creatures who want to be in control. We want to think that if we say the right words, do all the right things, pray in the right way, everything will be the way we want it to be. If that were true, a lot of Bible stories would be different, and faith would not really be necessary.
Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day, and another hymn I love is “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” which I say every morning. I’ve never forgotten something I read about it – I think in a book on it by the Rev. Andrew Greeley. It said that when St. Patrick made his prayer, he was in a situation where he knew he might be attacked and killed. The prayer was not to be safe, but that whatever did happen, God would be with him in it and through it: however wild the situation got, it would not be too wild for God’s presence.
Perhaps that (and my life in recent years) explains why I’d rather sing about “the wildness of God’s mercy” – and why I so love the Celtic blessing I know from The New Zealand Prayer Book, where it appears as the “Sentence of the Day” for Friday in the service of Night Prayer (Compline):
The blessing of God, the eternal goodwill of God, the shalom of God, the wildness and the warmth of God, be among us and between us, now and always.