History of Hymns: 'Send Your Word'
By C. Michael Hawn
“Send Your Word”
by Yasushige Imakoma; paraphrase by Nobuaki Hanaoka
The United Methodist Hymnal, 195
Send your Word, O Lord, like the rain,
falling down upon the earth.
Send your Word.
We seek your endless grace,
with souls that hunger and thirst,
sorrow and agonize.
We would all be lost in dark
without your guiding light.*
*Trans. ©1983 The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Yasushige Imakoma (1926–2013) prepared this hymn in 1965 for Pentecost Sunday for the congregation he served in Kawasaki. Taiwanese educator and ethnomusicologist I-to Loh describes the origins of this hymn:
The poet believes that the crisis and wars of the world are caused by the lack of verbal communication, as shown by God’s interference in the building of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1–9). The only way to solve the problem is to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, as did the people in Acts, Chapter 1, who were able to communicate with those who spoke in languages presumed to be unintelligible. It is also like the faith of the centurion who requested Jesus to “only speak the word, and my servant will be healed” (Matthew 8:8, NLV). (Loh, 2011, p. 97)
The hymn, then, is a prayer to Jesus for the healing and renewal of the world. The lengthy recovery of Japan after the Second World War was painful and slow. This hymn captures the Spirit of Pentecost described in Acts 1 and draws upon the psalm for Pentecost Sunday, Psalm 104:30, “You created all of them by your Spirit, and you give new life to the earth” (CEV).
Because the Japanese language requires more syllables than English to communicate similar ideas, the English paraphrase—rather than a direct translation—renders Imakoma’s poem differently. Let us first consider the symmetry and beauty of the English paraphrase by Nobuaki Hanaoka (b. 1944) and then compare it to the original Japanese poem.
Each stanza begins with a petition using a simile (a poetic device of comparison employing like or as) from nature:
Send your Word:
like the rain, / falling down upon the earth (stanza 1)
like the wind, / blowing down upon the earth (stanza 2)
like the dew, / coming gently on the hills (stanza 3)
The parallel construction of each stanza facilitates the hymn’s message. Following each petition is a reason for the request:
your endless grace (stanza 1)
your wondrous power (stanza 2)
your endless love (stanza 3)
The next phrases of each stanza describe the state of the suffering world:
souls that hunger and thirst, / sorrow and agonize (stanza 1)
sins [that] persist and cling (stanza 2)
life that suffered in strife / with adversities and hurts (stanza 3)
The final lines of each stanza conclude with a petition, drawing upon biblical and theological images of hope:
We would all be lost in dark / without your guiding light. (stanza 1)
Bring us to complete victory; / set us all free indeed. (stanza 2)
send us your healing power of love; / we long for your new world. (stanza 3)
The essence of each stanza appears in a condensed form in Japanese:
- 1. Give (your) Word, like the rain falling down, gracious Lord.
- 2. Give (your) Word, strongly like the wind, Lord of the Savior.
- 3. Give (your) Word, like the dew on the grass, Lord of Life.
The remainder of the English skillfully adds interpretive phrases to each stanza that are not a part of the Japanese poem (Ojiri, 2020).
The composer, Shōzō Koyama (1930–2017), found the words moving, and set them to a minor melody (C natural minor), capturing a sense of reverence and awe. The tune was submitted by the composer when the Hymnal Committee for the United Church of Christ in Japan requested music for this text. “The composer was deeply moved by the colloquial expressions of the hymn, in which the author speaks of God directly, and [this] was his first experience of composing a tune [to] a colloquial Japanese verse” (Young, 1993, p. 579). The first five unison pitches of the melody heighten the imperative of the petition— “Send your Word, O Lord.” Except for five unison pitches in measures 3–4 and 13–14, the remainder of the hymn is in a four-part chordal style, which looks like a standard Western hymn on the page. However, the dissonance set up by occasional chromatic notes in the lower three parts communicates the suffering of the world. Measures 6 and 8 “disturb” the expected rhythm with weighty syncopations that add a sense of urgency to the text. The composer revised his original submission at the request of the Hymnal Committee, simplifying it for congregational use. Shōzō chose the first word of the hymn as the tune name, MIKOTOBA, meaning “Word(s).”
Yasushige Imakoma, born in Tokyo, is the author of the Japanese text— “Mikotoba o kudasai” in transliterated Japanese. He became a Christian after World War II in the aftermath of Japan’s defeat. He began his studies at the Seminary for Rural Ministry in 1952, continuing his theological training at Japan Biblical Seminary. He began his ministry in a congregation in Kawasaki. In 1968 he devoted himself to the ministry for the blind, becoming head of the Japanese Association of Christian Mission to the Blind. From 1976 until 1989, he served a church in Toshimaoka. Subsequently, he was an associate pastor in a Shimizu congregation (Loh, 2011, p. 430).
Shōzō Koyama is the composer of the tune MIKOTOBA, taken from the first word of the hymn in Japanese. He learned Christian hymns during his student days during family worship in Nakano Prefecture. Following his baptism and graduation from Kunitachi College of Music, Koyama was a lecturer at Tamagawa University. After serving as a professor at the distinguished Kunitachi College of Music from 1959 to 1995, he retired as an emeritus professor (Loh, 2011, p. 440). He was awarded a prize from Westminster College in 1965 (Young, 1993, p. 784).
Nobuaki Hanaoka, the paraphraser, was eight months old when he escaped death in the bombing of Nagasaki, a catastrophic event that killed his mother and sister. He graduated from Kanto Gakuin University School of Theology in Yokohama, Japan. He continued his theological education at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School and Bexley Hall (Rochester, NY) in 1970, receiving the Master of Divinity degree. He was ordained as an American Baptist minister in 1972, serving the Japanese Baptist Church in Seattle, Washington, as associate pastor (1972–1975). Hanaoka initiated doctoral studies at the Graduate Theological Union (Berkeley, CA) in 1976. He was ordained a United Methodist elder in 1978. After taking appointments at Buena Vista United Methodist Church (UMC) in Alameda, Pine UMC in San Francisco, Japanese UMC in Sacramento, and Epworth UMC in Berkley, he assumed the position of coordinator for United Methodist congregations and agencies as executive director of San Francisco United Methodist Mission. His interest in contextual theology, liturgy, and music led to his appointment to the committee for the Asian hymnal supplement, Hymns from the Four Winds (1983). This supplement spurred interest in this hymn in the United States (Loh, 2011, p. 422). Rev. Hanaoka, a life-long advocate for issues of justice, spoke at an anniversary observance in memory of the Hiroshima bombing on August 6, 2019 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jaiq3seys3U). He participated in a virtual protest on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, August 6, 2020 (“Livermore: Protest,” August 6, 2020, n.p.).
“Send Your Word” was the first Japanese hymn to be included in Sambika Dainihen (Hymns of Praise) (1967), a hymnal for the United Church of Christ in Japan (Yokosaka, 2020). Nobuaki Hanaoka prepared the paraphrase in 1965. Japanese hymnologist Yasuhiko Yokosaka brought it to the attention of I-to Loh who chose it for the Asian United Methodist Supplement Hymns from the Four Winds (1983) and both editions of the ecumenical Asian hymnal Sound the Bamboo (1990, 2000). The United Methodist Hymnal (1989) also included the hymn. It also appears in The New Century Hymnal (1995) with a translation by Paul R. Gregory. The United Church of Christ in Japan included the hymn in their next hymnal, Hymnal 21 (1997). It appears in The Korean-English hymnal Come, Let Us Worship (2001), a collaboration between Presbyterians (PCUSA) and United Methodists. Most recently, the Reformed hymnal, Lift Up Your Hearts (2013), selected the hymn for inclusion.
I-to Loh, Hymnal Companion to Sound the Bamboo: Asian Hymns in Their Cultural Contexts (Chicago: GIA Publications, Inc, 2011).
“Livermore: Protest Calls for End to Nuclear Weapons on 75th Anniversary of Hiroshima Bombing,” Bay City News Service (August 6, 2020), Pleasanton Weekly.com, https://www.pleasantonweekly.com/news/2020/08/06/livermore-protest-calls-for-end-to-nuclear-weapons-on-75th-anniversary-of-hiroshima-bombing (accessed August 13, 2020).
Saya Ojiri, Email correspondence with the author, August 13, 2020.
Yasuhiko Yokosaka, Email correspondence with the author, August 16, 2020.
“Japanese Hymnody,” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/j/japanese-hymnody (accessed August 13, 2020).
Carlton R. Young, Companion to The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993).
C. Michael Hawn, D.M.A., F.H.S., is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Church Music and Adjunct Professor, and Director, Doctor of Pastoral Music Program at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.