History of Hymns: “Healer of Our Every Ill”
“Healer of Our Every Ill,” by Marty Haugen;
The Faith We Sing, No. 2213
Healer of our every ill,
Light of each tomorrow,
Give us peace beyond our fear,
And hope beyond our sorrow.*
Marty Haugen (b. 1950) wrote this meditative song during the winter of 1985-86. During this time, his family was staying at Holden Village, a retreat center in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger crashed shortly after takeoff. According to Haugen:
In addition to the loss of seven astronauts, this crash was a symbolic loss for Americans. At Holden we had very infrequent communication with the outside world, so we did not know of the disaster for a couple of days. When we got some information, we held a service in the evening together, and “Healer of our Every Ill” was written as an expression for our community to grieve together (Daw, 2016, 795, quoting Westermeyer, 2010, 451).
Haugen uses the text of this hymn as a prayer for healing, not only of the body but also of the mind and spirit. The refrain, “Give us peace beyond our fear, and hope beyond our sorrow,” is a powerful prayer and helps us express thoughts we find difficult to put into words. This hymn is also about joy, as evidenced in stanza two with the words, “your grace is still unfolding.” Stanza three’s text, “Give us strength to love each other,” uses language that urges us, even in times of sorrow and fear, to show love and kindness to our sisters and brothers in Christ. The last verse of the hymn asks us to teach Christ’s way of healing and to fill each heart with compassion.
Marty Haugen was born December 30, 1950, in Wanamingo, Minnesota. Haugen studied piano, violin, trombone, and organ through high school, and he played organ in the Lutheran church where his family attended. He holds degrees from Luther College and United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, and participated in graduate work in Pastoral Studies at what is now Luther Seminary and the St. Paul School of Divinity of the University of St. Thomas (Canterbury Dictionary). His hymns have become very popular and can be found in many hymnals today, including the Chalice Hymnal and Evangelical Lutheran Worship. The majority of his compositions are published by GIA publications, including two settings of the liturgy for Lutheran use, “Holden Evening Prayer” and “Now the Feast and Celebration.” He has also composed settings of the Catholic Mass, including the “Mass of Creation.” Haugen has composed numerous choral arrangements, sacred songs, and hymns, including “Gather Us In,” “Eye Hath Not Seen,” “Canticle of the Sun,” “We Are Many Parts,” “We Remember,” “Shepherd Me, O God,” and “Awake!” Currently, he writes contemporary hymns and liturgies for the Lutheran church and holds a position as composer in residence at Mayflower Community Church in Minneapolis.
“Healer of Our Every Ill” is a beautiful song that has several possible uses during worship. Its folk style lends itself to being used used as a prayer hymn, as a sung response to a sermon on healing, or as a hymn during a service of healing and wholeness. The refrain could also be extracted and used as a repeating chorus in the style of a Taizé song. “Healer of Our Every Ill” would also be useful when the Scripture of the day includes one of the healing events in Jesus’ ministry. The comforting, yet challenging, text and haunting melody of “Healer of Our Every Ill” makes it a great contribution to modern hymnody.
*© 1987 GIA Publications, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
For further reading:
CY. "Marty Haugen." The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/m/marty-haugen.
Daw, Jr. Carl P. “Healer of Our Every Ill.” Glory to God: A Companion. Westminster-John Knox Press, 2016.
Marty Haugen Website, http://www.martyhaugen.net/
Westermeyer, Paul. Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2010.
About this week’s writer:
Kevin Flannagan is the Music Director at Hazel Green United Methodist Church in Hazel Green, Alabama.
This article is provided as a collaboration between Discipleship Ministries and The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts. For more information about The Fellowship, visit UMFellowship.org/Hymns.