History of Hymns: Hymn revels in healing of body, mind and soul
“Heal me, Hands of Jesus”
The UM Hymnal, No. 262
Heal me, hands of Jesus,
and search out all my pain;
restore my hope, remove my fear,
and bring me peace again. *
“Heal me, Hands of Jesus” was written by Michael Perry in 1982. Perry (1942-1996) was educated at Dulwich College; University College, London; Oak Hill Theological College, London; University of Cambridge (Ridley Hall); and University of Southampton.
He was ordained in the Church of England and had served four different parishes when he died at age 54, losing a battle to cancer.
One of the organizations that helped define Perry’s ministry through music was the Jubilate Group. The group was founded by Michael Baughen in the 1960s, and by the 1970s was made up of 11 members, including Perry.
According to their website, the Jubilate Group’s mission is to “meet the challenge of a new generation in the UK, a generation which wished to extend its singing beyond the foursquare ways of metrical hymnody.”
Perry was named the honorary editorial secretary of Jubilate Hymns Ltd, and helped edit most of the books issued by Jubilate Hymns including what hymnologist Erik Routley said is the “defining collection” of the group, Hymns for Today’s Church (1982).
Perry’s hymns that are published in hymnals (outside of the Jubilate Group publications) include “Blessed by the God of Israel” (UM Hymnal, No. 209), “Heal me, Hands of Jesus,” “How Shall They Hear the Word of God” (UM Hymnal, No. 649) “In Christ There Is No East or West,” “Like a Mighty River Flowing,” and “O God Beyond All Praising” (The Faith We Sing, No. 2009).
This common meter (220.127.116.11) text requires a special tune because the text begins on a strong beat. It is set to SOUTHWELL, CAROL STREAM and SUTTON COMMON—with the most common being SUTTON COMMON, a tune written specifically for this text.
Norman L. Warren (b. 1934) wrote the tune for Perry’s text within the context of the Jubilate Group, of which he was a founding member.
Mr. Warren also went to Dulwich College, and studied music and theology at Corpus Christi College and Ridley Hall, Cambridge, earning his bachelors and masters degrees. He was ordained in the Church of England in 1960, and served four parishes before his retirement in 2000.
Mr. Warren, whose main instrument is the organ, has had more than 100 of his hymn tunes published. He also wrote “Journey into Life” (1964), the world’s best-selling evangelistic booklet.
“Heal me, Hands of Jesus” was written, according to Perry, to “fill the tremendous gap in hymns about healing.” Some textual changes were made from the original text before its first publication, with permission of Perry.
In his A Panorama of Christian Hymnody, hymnologist Paul A. Richardson notes that this hymn’s “direct and parallel petitions . . . convey both intimacy and fervency.” This hands-on and personal imagery of Jesus is typical of Perry and Jubilate Group’s aesthetic.
While maintaining an intimate feeling, the text also speaks universally, including pain, bitterness, sin, and anxiety in the four stanzas respectively. Who has not felt or experienced all of those issues?
Setting out to write a hymn about healing, Perry did well to include not only the healing of the physical body, but also the healing of the soul and mind. Dr. Richardson has also recognized that the opening stanza is especially poignant since Perry had an early death due to cancer.
This retrospective look at “Heal me, Hands of Jesus” and its author demonstrates how learning the stories behind the hymns we sing can provide deeper insights into the meaning of their texts, even if the authors did not originally envision such a study.