Home Worship Planning History of Hymns History of Hymns: 'Light Dawns on a Weary World'

History of Hymns: 'Light Dawns on a Weary World'

By Gabrielle Bronzich and Tiffany McClain, Guest Contributors

Mel Bringle headshot
Mary Louise Bringle

“Light Dawns on a Weary World”
by Mary Louise Bringle
Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 726
Glory to God, 79
RitualSong (2nd ed.), 682
Voices Together, 205

Light dawns on a weary world
when eyes begin to see
all people’s dignity.
Light dawns on a weary world:
The promised day of justice comes.


The trees shall clap their hands;
the dry lands gush with springs;
the hills and mountains shall break forth with singing!
We shall go out in joy,
and be led forth in peace,
as all the world in wonder echoes shalom.*

*© 2002 GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

In her article for The Hymn in 2006, Mary Louise (Mel) Bringle (b. 1953) tells the story of how “Light Dawns on a Weary World” came to be. Sometimes going through the back door works out better. Mel Bringle and tune writer William Rowan began by shaping the music, and the music shaped the words.

William P. Rowan (b. 1951) approached Mel Bringle at The Hymn Society Conference in Independence, Missouri, in 2001. Rowan had written several hymn tunes without words, á la composer Felix Mendelssohn, and approached some text writers while at the convention.

Originally titled WW#26, Rowan later named the tune TEMPLE OF PEACE ( with refrain) in honor of the Community of Christ Temple (Independence, Missouri), where music and text came together. In an interview with Hymn Society Executive Director Mike McMahon about the hymn’s “backward” process, Bringle stated that “hymn writing is a highly collaborative activity. . . and a product doesn’t happen without a meeting of the minds” between composer and text writer.

Rowan introduced his tune to Bringle after a plenary session on interfaith cooperation and bridge-building between Christians, Muslims, and Jews, which both had attended. When everyone had left the building, Rowan played his tune on the piano for Bringle and asked her if she might write some lyrics for it. Bringle returned to her hotel room and spent that night in creative contemplation. The accompaniment of the hymn melody reminded Bringle of “a watered garden,” so she turned to the Gideon Bible in her hotel room for Scriptural references on that theme. She came upon Isaiah 58:11:

And the Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.” [NRSV]

Bringle then found another passage from Isaiah that inspired the refrain:

For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands (Isaiah 55:12).

She hummed the melody to match those ideas to the tune, adjusting her lyrics to fit the music. In considering the last words of the refrain, she thought about the subject of the plenary session she had just attended, delivered by Reverend Fred Kaan (1929–2009), a British Congregationalist minister, hymnist, and pacifist and titled “Peacemaking Through Worship.” In that session, Kaan emphasized the Hebrew word “shalom” and the Arabic word “salaam” as key words in approaching peaceful collaboration among the three Abrahamic religions. Thinking on this, Bringle was inspired to include the word “shalom” in her refrain, with the idea of working for peace and justice among all people.

Bringle purposely uses words that include the vowel “O,” such as “shalom,” “blooms,” “wonder,” “world,” and “echo.” Her text is replete with imagery about gardens and growth as a metaphor for human beings restoring the whole of creation, not only nature but also one another. Restoration and renewal and helping our fellow human beings are ongoing themes in this hymn. Bringle repeats the phrase “weary world” in each stanza of the hymn, as well as the idea of a promised day of change coming: “the promised day of justice” (stanza 1), “the promised feast of plenty” (stanza 2), and “the promised green of Eden” (stanza 3). She prepares each phrase with the words “Light” (stanza 1), “Love” (stanza 2), and “Hope” (stanza 3) at the beginning of two lines in each stanza. Other poetic devices in this hymn include personification: eyes seeing dignity, hungry hearts finding bread, and forlorn creatures finding wilderness reborn.

Dr. Bringle considers this hymn appropriate for any time of the liturgical year, but the message of hope and restoration might speak to people especially during Advent and Lent. She suggests that the hymn might be an excellent way to reflect, during those seasons, on the needs of communities and creation: lifting up and restoring people and taking care of the earth.

Bringle had not initially considered the hymn for use during Advent or Lent but thought of it only after other music directors contacted her, suggesting that the hymn would fit well during those busy liturgical seasons. Both Advent and Lent are periods of waiting for light and hope to dispel the shadows of our busy lives, hoping that “surely our time of waiting will bear fruit. . . and by the grace of God, light will dawn on a weary world” (Bringle, 2006, p. 65).

The hymn appeared first in the author’s first collection Joy and Wonder, Love and Longing (Chicago, 2002), and has been included in several twenty-first-century hymnals since then, reflecting its ecumenical appeal: Community of Christ Sings (2013), Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), Glory to God (2013), RitualSong, 2nd Ed. (2016), and Voices Together (2020).

Dr. Mary Louise “Mel” Bringle is Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies and Chair of Humanities at Brevard College in Brevard, North Carolina. She began writing hymn texts in 1999, and her work has been featured in hymnals of multiple denominations. She is an award-winning hymnist, acclaimed by The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, and was named a Fellow of the Hymn Society in 2020.

William Patrick Rowan served as a music minister at several Roman Catholic parishes in Michigan, St. Rita Catholic Community (Dallas), and as a Liturgical Consultant for the Diocese of Lansing. He is the founder of the Huron Valley Chapter of the Hymn Society. He is currently employed by the Michigan Department of Education as a financial and data analyst. Rowan’s hymn settings have been sung at hymn festivals throughout the US, Great Britain, and Europe and are included in recent hymnals.

For performances, see the following:


Mary Louise Bringle, “100 Years of Song: Mary Louise Bringle, FHS.” Interview with Mike McMahon. The Hymn Society, YouTube, October 19, 2021. Video, 36:13. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOxtcLOolI8.

Mary Louise Bringle, “Hymn Interpretation: Light Dawns on a Weary World,” The Hymn 57, no. 4 (Autumn 2006): 62–65, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015057457338&view=1up&seq=276 (accessed May 17, 2023).

_______, Joy and Wonder, Love and Longing: 75 Hymn Texts (Chicago: GIA Publishing, Inc., 2002).

“Bringle, Mary Louise,” GIA Publications, Inc., https://www.giamusic.com/store/artists/mary-louise-bringle (accessed April 17, 2023).

Kevin Turner, “William Rowan,” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/w/william-rowan (accessed April 11, 2023).

Gabrielle Bronzich is a conductor, composer, arranger, organist, Celtic harpist, and professional singer who has served in music ministry since 1989 in Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas. Bronzich holds a Master of Music Degree in Organ Performance with a minor in Choral Conducting from the University of North Texas. She is pursuing a second master's degree, a Master of Arts in Ministry, at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University (SMU), Dallas, Texas, where she studied hymnology with Dr. Marcell Silva Steuernagel.

Tiffany McClain is currently a Master of Sacred Music student at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas. She is employed as the Music and Worship Coordinator at Broadway Baptist Church. Tiffany holds a Bachelor of Music from Hardin-Simmons University and a Master of Arts in Flute Pedagogy from Texas Woman’s University.

Contact Us for Help

View staff by program area to ask for additional assistance.



* indicates required

Please confirm that you want to receive email from us.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please read our Privacy Policy page.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.