History of Hymns: "Behold a Broken World"
By C. Michael Hawn
"Behold a Broken World"
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 426
Behold a broken world, we pray,
where want and war increase,
and grant us Lord, in this our day,
the ancient dream of peace.*
Timothy Dudley-Smith (b. 1926) has been a leading voice in British hymnody for more than five decades. Born in Manchester, England, Bishop Dudley-Smith was educated at Pembroke College and Ridley Hall, Cambridge. In 1950, he was ordained an Anglican priest. He has served as editor and secretary of several publications and societies, archdeacon of Norwich, and bishop of Thetford, Norfolk.
Bishop Dudley-Smith has written more than 300 texts, and he is the author of four collections of hymns available from Hope Publishing Company: Lift Every Heart (1984), Songs of Deliverance (1988), A Voice of Singing (1993) and Great is the Glory (1997). His father influenced his love of poetry, and his first hymn, written in 1961 (United Methodist Hymnal, No. 200), "Tell out, my soul," was written while he was at Cambridge.
He is often included in a group of four hymn writers from the United Kingdom who sparked the "hymnic explosion" that began in the 1960s. These hymn writers were searching for fresh expressions in current language that spoke to the concerns of the church in the late twentieth century. The others were Fred Kaan (1929-2009), Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000), and Brian Wren (b. 1936). Many recent hymnals reflect the influence of this group including The United Methodist Hymnal (1989), The Faith We Sing (2000), and Worship & Song (2011). The hymns continued the classical English-language hymn tradition, but were a reaction in many ways to the anesthetizing effect of Victorian hymns.
Bishop Dudley-Smith represents the evangelical wing of this group of four. His résumé includes a wide variety of positions, including the head of the Cambridge University Mission, Bermondsey (1953-1955), editorial secretary of the Evangelical Alliance, and the first editor of Crusade (1955-1960), a paper founded in the wake of the 1955 Billy Graham Crusades in Glasgow and London.
"Behold a Broken World" is an eloquent prayer for peace. Echoes of Isaiah 2:4 — "And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."— and Micah 1:3, a parallel verse, may be found in stanza two:
A dream of swords to sickles bent,
of spears to scythe and spade,
and weapons of out warfare spent,
a world of peace remade
Stanza three paraphrases Psalm 46:9: "He causes wars to cease all over the earth" (ISV): "where wars shall cease in all the world."
The predominant theme running throughout is of fulfilling the "ancient dream of peace" (stanza one). Stanza three pleads for the cessation of war, "a waking dream fulfilled." Stanza four prays that "the lofty visions [of the] dreamers of the day" should prevail. The arrival of the "Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6) who died to save and redeem a lost world heralds "our waking dream" (stanza five).
The Rev. Carlton Young, editor of The United Methodist Hymnal, notes a connection between the theme of dreamers and a section from the introductory chapter of T. E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1922): "All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible."
The recollections of a British soldier – "Lawrence of Arabia" – who served as a liaison officer with rebel forces during the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks of 1916 to 1918 - offers a metaphorical backdrop for this hymn. The final stanza is a petitionary prayer for peace that begins with the haunting phrase: "Bring, Lord, your better world to birth . . . "
The hymn first appeared in the July 1985 issue of The Hymn, the journal of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, as one of five chosen in a search by the society for hymns on the theme of peace.
Bishop Dudley-Smith lives in retirement in the cathedral city of Salisbury, England. He has been recognized for his contributions to hymnody with honors from the United Kingdom (an honorary vice-president of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland) and the United States (a Fellow of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada). In 2003, he received an OBE (Order of the British Empire) award "for services to hymnody."