History of Hymns: "Cast Out, O Christ"
“Cast Out, O Christ”
Mary Louise Bringle
Worship & Song, No. 3072
Cast out, O Christ, cast far away
the demons that destroy:
the haunting dreads that choke our souls,
the hates that stifle joy. *
Mary Louise (Mel) Bringle (b. 1953) describes herself as an “accidental hymn writer.” Raised in North Carolina, she went to Guilford College in Greensboro, studying French and religion, and later received a Ph.D. in theology from Emory University in Atlanta. She has written two books, Despair: Sickness or Sin? (1990) and The God of Thinness: Gluttony and Other Weighty Matters (1992), and has been a contributing editor to the journal Preaching Great Texts. Currently, Dr. Bringle teaches philosophy and religion and is chair of humanities at Brevard College in western North Carolina.
Dr. Bringle’s genesis as a hymn writer began in 1998 when one of her students sent her a wedding announcement along with an unusual request. He asked if she would be willing to write a text for a tune he was composing for his wedding. She obliged.
Another fluke, or perhaps happy coincidence in her journey toward becoming a hymn writer, occurred when Sally Ann Morris, a well-known hymn tune composer, suggested that she join The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada (HSUSC). Not only did she join, she entered the society’s competitions in several different categories. At the group’s yearly conference in 2000, she experienced what she describes as “a rather overwhelming run of beginning hymn writer’s luck,” winning all three competitions that she entered. She has since served as the HSUSC president.
Several of her hymns have received awards including “Bless the Arms that Comfort,” written for caregivers, and “The Garden Needs Our Tending Now” for environmental stewardship. In 2002, Dr. Bringle was named an “emerging text writer” at HSUSC annual conference. To date two collections of her hymns have been published: Joy and Wonder, Love and Longing (2002) and In Wind and Wonder (2007). Recently, she chaired the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song that will result in Glory to God (2013), the next hymnal for the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Dr. Bringle’s fresh and captivating texts bring biblical passages to life in unique ways. Her text “Cast Out, O Christ” (2006) focuses on the Gerasene demoniac whom Jesus healed. This story appears in all three of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) immediately following the account of Jesus calming the storm. She notes that in the biblical text, Jesus does not allow the healed man to accompany him, but rather sends the man out to tell people about the miracle. The author writes a hymn that implores Christ not only to cast out “demons that destroy,” but also to send those newly rehabilitated into the world to “spread abroad [Christ’s] joy.”
“Cast Out, O Christ” brings to life a story of a man who is the epitome of an outcast—a figure to whom Dr. Bringle often draws attention. Confined to a cave, isolated from human contact, he is locked in the prison of his demons, called Legion. Rather than merely relaying the story of a man dealing with demons (the third-person tense would make it quite easy to dismiss it all as being separate from our personal journeys), Dr. Bringle weaves first-person pain into her description of the man’s suffering.
Thus, the story is not confined to the caves of Mark, Luke and Matthew. Instead, it resounds among all people who are trapped by demons. Most importantly, the story continues beyond the dread, hate, grief, fear, shame, imprisonment and despair, urging us to keep our eyes locked on the One who gives “life and health and hope,” and who supplies the tremendous strength that is required to heal fully.
This hymn, published in 2006, not only names the troubles and fears of our lives today, but also speaks far beyond our own time and space. In singing the verses, we find ourselves able to glimpse a hope that transcends time. Perhaps the greatest purpose of any hymn text is, as the author wishes for her own poetry, that it may provide a glimpse of “the hope beyond all hope for a world in which, finally and fully, God’s peace will come to fruition, and the very hills and mountains shall break forth with singing.”