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History of Hymns: "O Day of Peace that Dimly Shines"

"O Day of Peace that Dimly Shines"
Carl Daw Jr.
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 729

Carl Daw Jr.

O day of peace that dimly shines
through all our hopes and prayers and dreams,
guide us to justice, truth, and love,
delivered from our selfish schemes.
May swords of hate fall from our hands,
our hearts from envy find release,
till by God’s grace our warring world
shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace.*

Carl Pickens Daw Jr. (b. 1944) was born in Louisville, Ky. He holds a doctoral degree in English from the University of Virginia and the masters of divinity degree from the University of the South. He has been the executive director of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada since 1996. An Episcopal priest, Dr. Daw has served congregations in Virginia, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

Dr. Daw began writing hymns as a consultant member of the Text committee for The Hymnal 1982, the current hymnal of the Episcopal Church. Since that time, he is recognized as one of the leading hymn writers in North America, with texts in most denominational and ecumenical hymnals published on this continent.

Episcopal hymnologist Raymond Glover provides the background for the composition of this hymn: “[It] was created in response to two special requests received by the Standing Commission of Church Music during its preparation of The Hymnal 1982 . . . the General Convention’s Joint Commission on Peace . . . and an appeal from many sources, request[ing] the inclusion of [Charles Hubert Hasting Parry’s] tune “Jerusalem”. . . . To satisfy both of these appeals, the Commission called on [Dr. Daw], a Consultant to the Text Committee . . . to compose a text on the theme of peace that could be sung to the popular Parry tune.”

Dr. Daw was influenced in his composition by the book Turning to Christ by Urban T. Holmes III, one of his seminary professors. Carlton Young, UM Hymnal editor, notes that “[Dr. Daw’s] attention was drawn to Isaiah 11:6-8, and the heart of the hymn [focused on] the peaceable kingdom, paradise regained.” The second stanza was drawn from this prophetic passage of Scripture.

Dr. Daw describes his thinking about the hymn: “This hymn deals with two aspects of peace: pax, an understanding of peace based on the cessation of conflict, and shalom, the condition of living abundantly in harmony and mutual goodwill. . . . Although this hymn affirms that peace is always God’s gift, it also recognizes the importance of human responsibility in preparing an environment in which peace can flourish.”

The tune JERUSALEM plays prominently in the interpretation and success of this text. For British singers, this tune has a long history having been paired with a William Blake poem on social justice, the first line of which was drawn form the author’s Preface to his book Milton:

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
. . .
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark satanic mills?

The second stanza begins:

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
. . .

Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918), music scholar and professor of composition and music history at the Royal College of Music, wrote a setting for Blake’s text that became that was so popular that the hymn became an unofficial British national anthem. The tune came to prominence in the U.S. as the theme song for the film Chariots of Fire (1981).

Dr. Daw succeeds admirably in composing a text with a majesty that matches Parry’s music. The most important words of each stanza—“grace” in stanza one and “peace” in stanza two—coincide powerfully with the apex of the melody. In doing so, he provides English-speaking Christians worldwide with perhaps the finest hymn on peace in the closing decades of the 20th century.

*©1982 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188; All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology, SMU.