History of Hymns: “Wild and Lone the Prophet's Voice”
By C. Michael Hawn
Wild and Lone the Prophet’s Voice
by Carl P. Daw, Jr.;
The Faith We Sing, No. 2089
Wild and lone the prophet’s voice
echoes through the desert still,
calling us to make a choice,
bidding us to do God’s will:
“Turn from sin and be baptized;
cleanse your heart and mind and soul.
Quitting all the sin you prized,
yield your life to God’s control.*
*© 1989 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
The Advent season comes upon us as an intruder. We want to rush to the manger singing our favorite Christmas carols, but the biblical witness invites us, if we are willing, to listen for a deeper message.
The hymns of Carl P. Daw, Jr. (b. 1944) are immersed in Scripture. In “Wild and Lone the Prophet’s Voice,” Rev. Daw takes us back to the call for repentance by John the Baptizer. As we sing the opening line – “Wild and lone the prophet’s voice” – we join the prophet, half-naked and half-starved, shivering in the desert.
The hymn is inspired by the narratives found in all four gospels and drawing on the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3: “A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God’” (NIV). We encounter, in the first stanza, a series of imperative verbs that grip the singer: “Turn from sin”; “be baptized”; “cleanse your heart”; “yield your life to God’s control.” Carl Daw amplified his intent in this stanza in correspondence to this writer (Email: December 2006):
The verbs in stanza one outline the path of a conversion experience, what is called metanoia in the New Testament. Although we usually regard conversion as being painful or punitive, I am very grateful that my seminary dean (Urban T. Holmes III) taught me to think of metanoia as “God’s gift of space to turn around in.” In many ways that is also a description of Advent, a time when we are given the space to recall the First Coming of Christ at Bethlehem and to anticipate his Second Coming in power, glory, and love.
The remaining stanzas of this hymn may be viewed here. Stanza two is abundant with biblical references, including Galatians 5:22-23 (the “fruits of the Spirit”) and Colossians 3:1-2: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (NIV). The poet then draws on the image of the chaff that, when separated from the wheat, will be burned in an unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:12). This metaphor returns later in Christ’s ministry in the parable of the wheat and tares in Matthew 13.
The final stanza sums up the theme of John’s preaching: our salvation is near. For many of us who live in a world of relative comfort, these words threaten our way of living. Yet, the author indicates, these should be “words of hope to all who hear.” Rev. Daw combines the proclamation of John the Baptist (John 1:29, 36) with images of the triumphant Lamb in the Book of Revelation (5:6-14). The singer joins with John saying, “behold the Lamb of God.”
Carl Pickens Daw, Jr. was born in Louisville, Kentucky and now resides in Boston, Massachusetts. He holds a Ph.D. degree in English from the University of Virginia and the M.Div. degree from the University of the South. Dr. Daw was the Executive Director of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada from 1996-2009. An Episcopal priest, he has served congregations in Virginia, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. He continues as Adjunct Professor of Hymnology and the Curator of the Hymnological Collections at the Boston University School of Theology.
Carl 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, Daw is recognized as one of the leading hymn writers in North America, with texts in most denominational and ecumenical hymnals published on this continent. He wrote “Wild and Lone” for an Advent Hymn Contest for the Hymn Society [now The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada] in 1985. Among the honors he has received, Dr. Daw was made a Fellow of the Hymn Society in 2007 and a Fellow of the Royal School of Church Music in 2011.
Composers have set many of his texts to choir music. Hope Publishing Company has issued collections of his hymns: A Year of Grace: Hymns for the Church Year (1990) in which this hymn was first published; To Sing God’s Praise (1992), New Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1996); Gathered for Worship: Fifty New Psalms and Hymns (2006); Prayer Rising into Song: Fifty New and Revised Hymns (2016). In another project, he collaborated with Kevin R. Hackett in the production of A Hymntune Psalter in two volumes (1998-1999). In 2002, a collection of 25 of his hymns in Japanese was published by the United Church of Christ in Japan.
Hymnary.org notes that more than ninety of Dr. Daw’s hymns may be found in current hymnals. A hymnologist of the first rank, he recently completed Glory to God: A Companion (2016), a source that provides the background of the hymns and tunes for Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal (2013), the most recent hymnal of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
C. Michael Hawn is University Distinguished Professor of Church Music and Director of the Doctor of Pastoral Music Program at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas.
Verses marked NIV are from the NIV New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.