In Our Distress, O Lord, We Cry
By Diana Sanchez-Bushong
This hymn, written by S T Kimbrough, Jr., reminds us of God’s presence with us in times of grief and distress and the power of love over hate. Here, the author gives us some insights as to the occasion of its creation, themes found within the hymn, and use in worship with performance ideas.
Author: S T Kimbrough, Jr., b. 1936, USA
Composer: English melody arr., Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906
Background: The text of this song emerged in the wake of the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001, when thousands of people lost their lives in the destruction of the World Trade Center towers in New York, the damage to the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and the plane crash in a Pennsylvania field due to terrorist attacks. He was struck with grief for the loss of life and the futility of violence in resolving human problems and turned to the Scriptures to articulate his response. The author set the text to Ralph Vaughan Williams’ tune KINGSFOLD.
Theme: The cry for vengeance, especially in times of injustice and war, is often a common response. Yet, in reflecting on Jesus’ words, “Love your enemies,” the author could not put out of his mind that Jesus’ followers are called to respond to aggression with love, as difficult as that may be. Hence, the central theme of the text is the power of love over hate.
Liturgical use: The song is appropriate for services of healing, thanksgiving, some memorial services, World Day of Prayer. The use of the song may be expanded by omitting stanza 1, which is event specific.
Performance and style: The song is to be sung in unison. The melody may be introduced by a single lead instrument, and a choir or soloist might sing stanza 1. The song could be used as a solo or as a unison anthem in a service of remembrance and hope.
Instrumentation: Keyboard and organ are appropriate. Do not embellish. Keep the accompaniment extremely simple. A flute or flute stop on the organ or synthesizer might introduce the melodic line. A simple accompaniment with guitar may be effective, although the keyboard is preferable.
Teaching tips: Do not rush the melody. After it is played by a solo Instrument, invite everyone to hum the melody with the instrument.
Permission is granted for its use in worship with the appropriate credit given to the author.
1. In our distress, O Lord, we cry
in terror’s darkest night,
for thousands have been forced to die—
we search for what is right.
2. Should we not now for vengeance yearn,
to wipe out evil hate?
Should we the evil now return?
Is this our only fate?
3. “Your foes,” said Jesus, “love you must,”
but, God of love, we ask,
“How can such love be truly just?
“Is this our earthly task?”
4. Your ways are not our ways, O Lord,
yet this may not excuse
our acting now against your Word—
your giving love refuse.
5. We search for meaning at this hour,
for we are in despair;
show us that love’s the greatest power;
transform us, help us care.
6. Replace the anger in our heart
with love to give and heal,
draw us together not apart
that love, not hate, we’ll feel.