Home History of Hymns: "Sacred the Body"

History of Hymns: "Sacred the Body"

"Sacred the Body"
Ruth Duck
The Faith We Sing, No. 2228

Ruth Duck

“Sacred the body God has created,
temple of Spirit that dwells deep inside.
Cherish each person; nurture creation.
Treat flesh as holy, that love may abide.”*

By C. Michael Hawn
UMR Columnist

Discussions of the human body within the history of Christianity have often been negative as Christians throughout the ages have often considered the soul to be pure and superior to the “lusts and passions” of the body.

The roots of this perspective are in large part due to the Hellenistic context that shaped much of the New Testament. Greek thought created a mind-body dualism in which the former was superior to the latter.

This perspective has led to a neglect of a wholesome look at the body in theology and hymnody, and a denial in the church of issues related to physical abuse in its many forms.

Ruth Duck was inspired to write this hymn after a conversation with Janet Walton, professor of worship at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Dr. Duck notes that Dr. Walton “called to ask if I knew of a congregational song that spoke to issues of battering and abuse using Paul’s concept of the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16-17).” This request came as a result of a conversation among students planning for a seminary worship service at Union Seminary who needed a song on this theme. None was to be found.

Dr. Duck states, “I didn’t know of existing hymn texts on that theme, but the idea inspired 'Sacred the Body.' Writing the text was a source of healing for my distress over a friend’s story of being sexually abused by a religious professional.”

Turning to the text itself, we find a carefully crafted Christian theology of the body in the four stanzas of the hymn.

Stanza one cited above is rooted in Scripture: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are” (1 Cor. 3:16-17, RSV). Dr. Duck establishes that we should not only treat ourselves as temples of the holy God, but also “cherish each person”—a quality of Christian community.

Stanza two focuses on the variety of bodies “made in all sizes, pale, full of color, both fragile and strong.” Each is holy and a “gift of the Maker,” and therefore should be honored.

Following this logical pattern, stanza three addresses the topic of abuse lyrically and effectively:

“Love respects persons,
bodies and boundaries.
Love does not batter, neglect, or abuse.
Love touches gently,
never coercing.
Love leaves the other with power to choose.”*

The final stanza is a petition to God to “make us your temples... so that our bodies give honor to you.”

This hymn demonstrates the ability of current hymn writers to address the social circumstances of our day in a biblically based, theologically coherent and poetically sensitive manner. Dr. Duck never “preaches” to the singer.

Born in Washington, D.C., Dr. Duck’s theological education includes Chicago Theological Seminary, University of Notre Dame and Boston University School of Theology, where she received her Th.D. in 1989. She received an honorary doctorate from Chicago Theological Seminary in 1983.

Before coming in 1989 to Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill., where she is professor of worship, Dr. Duck served as pastor at United Church of Christ parishes in Illinois, Wisconsin and Massachusetts.

She has three published collections of hymns. “Sacred the Body” first appeared in Circles of Care: Hymns and Songs (1998).

*Words: Ruth C. Duck, © 1997 The Pilgrim Press. Hymn #39 from Circles of Care: Hymns and Songs by Ruth C. Duck, edited by Arthur G. Clyde, © 1998 by The Pilgrim Press, Cleveland, Ohio. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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

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