Let Streams of Living Justice

One of the hymns chosen for Sunday, September 18th, Let Streams of Living Justice, by William Whitla, is not covered under our copyright licenses.  We wrote to the hymn’s author to ask if we have his permission to include the hymn the large-print version of our Sunday bulletin.  Not only did Mr. Whitla respond positively, he provide the reply below in which he talks about the events that were taking place when he wrote the hymn.  He included two additional verses not included in our hymnal Evangelical Lutheran Worship.    Here is Mr. Whitla’s reply:

Many thanks for writing and I’m pleased that you’re thinking of using my hymn.  There is no charge for it. Please let me give you a bit of information about the hymn, as well as the fuller version than is in the hymn book you are using.

The hymn has been widely used in the Lutheran and Anglican Churches in Canada (which, as you may know, are in inter-communion) and the USA (3 of the original 4 verses: now with a fifth verse  on mission and ministry added) in Augsburg Fortress’s  Evangelical Lutheran Worship (though with only three verses), Sundays and Seasons, and in the new Canadian Anglican Common Praise.

The hymn was actually written with four verses (now five). It arose out of events in 1989, as I comment in a moment, and was selected ten years later for inclusion in Sing Justice, Do Justice, published in 1998 by Selah Publishing for The Hymn Society in an international search for new hymns on the subject of social justice. Since then, the second verse has sometimes been axed which I am not keen on, with editors cutting out images that might seem to them both too Incarnational and too feminine, as it appears to me. A fifth verse was added in 2010 (now verse three) for a friend’s ordination (see below), though it also fits with both mission and the larger theme of the hymn.

I wrote the hymn just after the events of the abortive people’s uprising in China in Tienanmen Square, and when the Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina were bringing their campaign to the conscience of the world. At the same time, the religious and racial disputes in Ireland, Israel-Palestine, the Congo and other parts of Africa, and the slaughters in Paris, Istanbul, and Paris—and in Canada too—and many other countries over First Nation or Aboriginal rights and various kinds of inter-racial hatred—all seemed impossible to solve—but gradually I see some signs of reconciliation and hope.

Unfortunately, similar events are still replayed, and only too-similar images in the Near East, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Somalia and the Ivory Coast, Uganda, and Syria recur—not to mention 9/11, the school and other shootings at home (Columbine and all the rest, including Tucson, Arizona, Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut, Umpqua College in Roseburg, Oregon,  Navy Yard in Washington, Orlando, Minneapolis, and Baton Rouge). Such horrors are now extended well beyond those earlier sad happenings. So I used some images from those events, especially in verse two, seen through echoes of the holocaust, to tell of the bad news before the Good News of verses three and four (now four and five). Subsequent events have only sharpened those images, alas.

To me all of these parts are needed for a full expression of the biblical promises of hope and justice so long awaited, including the too-common images of both the child with the gun and the old ones dreaming for peace. And I like the images of God as potter and weaver too. In our experience, a congregation needs to become familiar with the melody, so in my view all the verses tell a fuller story and help people get used to the great tune by Gustav Holst (“Jupiter” from his symphonic suite, The Planets).

I am now retired after teaching at York University for many years and I am also a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada, serving as an honorary assistant at the Church of the Holy Trinity in downtown Toronto.

Best wishes,

William Whitla.

Here are the complete words of the hymn:

(Sung to Thaxted by Gustav Holst, 1921

1.      Let streams of living justice flow down upon the earth;
give freedom’s light to captives, let all the poor have worth.
The hungry’s hands are pleading, the workers claim their rights,
the mourners long for laughter, the blinded seek for sight.
Make liberty a beacon, strike down the iron power,
abolish ancient vengeance: proclaim your people’s hour.

2.      The dreaded disappearance of family and friend;
the torture and the silence—the fear that knows no end;
the mother with her candle, the child who holds a gun,
the old one nursing hatred —all seek release to come.
Each candle burns for freedom; each lights a tyrant’s fall
each flower placed for martyrs gives tongue to silenced call.

3.    You hallow our vocations, you call us to your way;
you shape us for your service—you the Potter, we the clay.
Share with us Creation’s moulding; form our minds to your delight;
Mighty Crafter of our vessels, fire our visions with your light—
consecrate your priest and people;    warm the steps your saints have trod:
bless the bread of our endeavours, bless the wine of our resolve.

4.      For healing of the nations, for peace that will not end,
for love that makes us lovers, God grant us grace to mend.
Weave our varied gifts together; knit our lives as they are spun;
on your loom of time enroll us till our thread of life is run.
O great Weaver of our fabric, bind Church and world in one;
dye our texture with your radiance, light our colours with your sun.

5.      Your city’s built to music; we are the stones you seek;
your harmony is language: we are the words you speak.
Our faith we find in service, our hope in other’s dreams,
our love in hand of neighbour: our homeland brightly gleams.
Inscribe our hearts with justice; your way—the path untried;
your truth—the heart of stranger; your life—the Crucified.

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