Home History of Hymns: “When Love Is Found”

History of Hymns: “When Love Is Found”

Brian Wren

History of Hymns: “When Love Is Found”
by Brian Wren;
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 643.

When love is found
and hope comes home,
sing and be glad

that two are one.
When love explodes

and fills the sky,
praise God and share

our Maker’s joy.*

* © 1983 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Hymns often begin out of a specific request or need. The good hymn not only satisfies that original impetus, but also speaks more broadly to the experience of others. Such is the case with “When love is found” by Brian Wren (b. 1936). The author provides the origins of the hymn text:

“My brother Keith was uniting in marriage with Sandra Matthews in Bombay [now Mumbai], India, and an English friend, Gill Todd, was marrying a Sri-Lankan, Percy Fernando, in Scotland. I couldn’t go to either wedding, so I wrote this song for both, to an old folk tune, “O Waly Waly” (“The river is wide”), easily accompanied on guitar.”

Before addressing the hymn, let us turn our attention to the Christian context of weddings.

Historically, marriage and the Christian church have had an ambiguous relationship. Couples do not need to be married in the church for the relationship to be legally valid. In the Western church, the relationship between weddings and the priest had to do as much with the church’s role in keeping civil records than anything inherently Christian about marriage.

Some Christian traditions view marriage as a sacrament. St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) influenced the Roman Catholic view of sacraments by stating that a valid sacrament needed two things: the right matter and the right form. This seemed fairly straightforward in the case of the Eucharist, the right matter being the elements themselves and the right form being the approved Eucharistic rite or Great Thanksgiving. To this was added the right intent. Those who receive a sacrament must intend to receive it; deception invalidates the sacrament even if other conditions are met.

Thus, how do these criteria play out if marriage is a sacrament? The right intent is to willfully enter into the contract of marriage without coercion or deception. The right form is the approved marriage rite, in this case a rite that includes, especially in traditional forms, legal language for the exchange of property – the bride – from one man (her father) to another (the husband). What then is the right matter? The church, perhaps squeamishly, has to admit that it is the consummation of the relationship. Indeed, a marriage can be annulled legally if it is proven that it was not consummated.

More than perhaps any other Christian ritual, the marriage ceremony is subject to local customs and cultural assumptions. One of the more difficult pastoral roles of a minister is to decide what to do when a conflict exists between local customs and the theology and practice of the Christian faith in wedding ceremonies. For example, it is relatively recent that weddings are seen as the joining of two equal persons and not an exchange of property. One change that represents this is the omission of “obey” from the bride’s vows, while in many rites, the groom made no comparable commitment. Does the florist-inspired use of a “unity” candle where two flames are extinguished and replaced by a single candle really signify the equality of both parties?

In most places, a simple civil ceremony is sufficient for legal purposes. In some states, virtually anyone can preside at the ceremony, while in other states a minister must apply and be recognized by the state in which the wedding takes place. In some countries, the legal ceremony, officiated by the appropriate authority, takes place before the wedding, and the service within a church is a celebration with no legal standing.

Some of the most controversial biblical passages used in the current discussions around gay weddings are the references to “the husband of one wife” (I Timothy 3:12; Titus 1:6). Without wading into these waters, I recall teaching at a Nigerian seminary in 1989 and attending a conference where this was the theme. The major concern of the conference in this cultural context was not gay weddings, however, but the practice of polygamy within the membership of the church.

Then, there are the local customs of “arranged” marriages that are historically prevalent and still common throughout the world. Again, teaching in a Christian seminary in India in 2008, I inquired about the plans of the graduating students following the completion of their course work. Several male students – future pastors – with whom I had developed a relationship told me, “Well, I am not sure, but I think my family is planning my wedding.”

Though Brian Wren has joyfully taken on the difficult task of writing a text on Christian love, some might ask, “Do we need another hymn on this theme? Isn’t the traditional hymn, ‘O Perfect Love, all human thoughts transcending ’ (The UM Hymnal, No. 645), an interpretation based on 1 Corinthians 13 penned by Dorothy Gurney in 1883, sufficient?” For all who had this hymn sung at their wedding, I certainly will not disparage it in the least.

Brian Wren has provided a strong theological justification for a Christian perspective on love that is as rich as most sermons one might hear on the topic. The complete hymn is available at http://www.hymnary.org/text/when_love_is_found_and_hope_comes_home

The first stanza indicates that God is the Creator of joy and takes joy in our happiness and fulfillment: “praise God, and share our Maker’s joy.”

Stanza two stresses that relationships are a process and that love must “flower . . . in trust and care” and “build . . . each day.” Furthermore, a relationship based on love has an ethical dimension that seeks “home’s warmth and light” to “strive for truth and right.”

Stanza three acknowledges that love is not a constant but is subject to change and that wisdom comes from “listening ears and opened eyes.”

The penultimate stanza explores the more difficult aspects of a relationship based on love – a relationship that may be “torn and trust betrayed.” Based on I Corinthians 13:6, “[Love] does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.” (RSV),

Brian Wren responds with a pastor’s wisdom and experience: “lovers keep no score of wrong . . ..” Furthermore, they listen for “love’s Easter song.”

The final stanza has a doxological feel beginning with “Praise God for love,/praise God for life. . .” Dr. Wren revised phrase in this stanza (as he often does) from its original version written in 1978. The original second line (found in The UM Hymnal) in this stanza reads “in age and youth,/in husband, wife . . . .” At the suggestion of a friend, the last four syllables were changed to “in calm or strife.”

What is amazing about this hymn is that it addresses both Christian weddings and any relationships based on love including siblings, family members, and close friends. Though often recited at weddings for good reason, I Corinthians 13 is not really about marriage, but about any loving relationship. Indeed, the Greek word is agape – a word for love indicating Paul’s “more excellent way” of selfless love within a Christian community (I Corinthians 12:31) – rather than eros. This is not to negate the special significance of life partners for each other, but it is to suggest that a theology of Christian love extends much deeper than eros, erotic love.

Dr. Wren, born in the U.K. and now a citizen of the United States, retired in 2007 from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, where he was the first holder of the John and Miriam Conant Professorship in Worship. He holds the title of Professor of Worship emeritus at this institution. In addition to publications of his own hymn texts, there are two additional collections with his partner-in-marriage Susan Heafield (pronounced “Hayfield”), a United Methodist pastor/musician. Brian Wren’s hymns have appeared in virtually every English language hymnal published since 1980. He serves the church universal in many capacities including as a parish minister, hymn writer, and lecturer.

A Fellow of the Hymn Society in the U.S. and Canada (2001), he is the author of Praying Twice: the Music and Words of Congregational Song (2000), What Language Shall I Borrow? God-talk in Worship: A Male Response to Feminist Theology (1989), and Piece Together Praise: A Theological Journey (1996), an anthology of his hymn poems, plus seven words-and-music hymn collections from Hope Publishing Company.

C. Michael Hawn is University Distinguished Professor of Church Music, Perkins School of Theology, SMU.