“We Are Yearning For the Season”

The hymn text I’ve chosen for the second week of Advent could actually be used throughout the season.   The author, Ruth Duck, had been asked by the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ of LaGrange, Illinois to write a hymn for use during Advent, 2002.  Their music director, Dan McDaniel, had the idea of adding a stanza each week until all five stanzas would be sung on Christmas, thus yoking the season of joyful anticipation with the Incarnation festival itself.  The hymn appears in Welcome God’s Tomorrow: 38 Hymn Texts by Ruth Duck (Chicago, IL: GIA Publications, 2005).

We are yearning for the season
when love sweeps away all wrong.
Knowing evil, war, and weeping,
still we cry, O God, how long?
We are yearning for a new world.
Still we cry, O God, how long?

We are hoping for a new earth
breathed in dreams the prophets tell.
Though the word is but a whisper,
Love endures; all shall be well.
We are hoping, still believing
Love endures, all shall be well.

We are living t’ward the future
when God’s will is fully done.
Even now we taste tomorrow
when all peoples feast as one.
We are living t’ward the future
When all peoples feast as one.

We are waiting like a mother
when her time is drawing near.
As God births the life of ages
we know labor, hope, and fear.
We are waiting, still preparing
For God’s new life drawing near.

We rejoice in God’s revealing,
for Christ Jesus comes today.
God-beside-us in our struggle,
come to earth and come to stay.
Hope of ages, fill our yearning;
Joy of nations, come to stay.

© 2005 GIA Publications, Inc.

Though written for a Christian community not bound to the Roman Rite’s liturgical year and lectionary system, I find this hymn to reflect the themes of the season rather well. Stanza one could correspond to the first week of Advent when the readings focus on the Second Coming of Christ; Duck’s text acknowledges the apocalyptic imagery that seems to mark our world, yet yearns for the Parousia when “love sweeps away all wrong.”  Stanza two highlights the prophetic visions recounted during Advent, especially the passages from the Scroll of Isaiah that speak of what God’s new world will be like.  Stanza three continues its focus on the prophetic, and could be especially appropriate as Roman Catholics make a transition after 17 December to concentrate on the prophetic preaching of John the Baptist.  Stanza four draws our attention to the experience of Mary pregnant with the Christ Child, but Duck beautifully connects this quintessentially female experience both to God birthing “the life of ages” and to the Church knowing “labor, hope and fear,” all themes that appear in Roman Rite liturgical celebration in the final week of Advent.  Best of all, the author does not leave us simply anticipating but in the final stanza declares that all we have yearned, hoped, lived, and waited for finds its fulfillment in the enfleshment of God.  Roman Rite Catholics could easily interpret this stanza as a reference to the liturgical hodie, that God comes “today” in word and sacrament in the liturgical celebration of the Church.  The pleas of the last four lines of this stanza become an extension of the ancient Christian prayer “Maranatha,” “Come, Lord,” perhaps the core prayer of Advent spirituality.

There is much to admire in the author’s craft.  She deftly weaves scriptural allusions (e.g., “How long, O Lord?” from the psalms), medieval mystic’s writings (e.g., Julian of Norwich’s “All shall be well”), liturgical theology (e.g., “we taste tomorrow” as shorthand for the eschatological dimension of Eucharistic communion), and contemporary theology (“God-beside-us in our struggle” as a recasting of Emmanuel through liberation theology) in these stanzas, but without belaboring her erudition.  I especially like her use of present progressives during the four weeks of Advent (we are “yearning,” “hoping,” “living” [toward the future], “waiting”), emphasizing the dynamism of the season, followed by a simple present tense for Christmastide: “we rejoice.”  And if there is a motto to keep one from despairing over how far our world seems from the Reign of God, could one find anything better than: “Love endures; all shall be well.”

“We Are Yearning For A Season” is yoked with Dale Wood’s strong hymn tune EDEN CHURCH.  A C minor modal 4/4 march-like composition, this tune’s strength undercuts any tendency toward mawkishness that might come from the text’s concentration on the community’s activities and feelings.  The opening phrase sounds note-for-note as does the PICARDY hymn tune, though the durations of the notes are different.  The tune is also quite wide-ranging from C to an Eb above the octave-above C, but the tessitura for the first four phrases is quite low, mostly from C to G.  That makes the climactic final phrase of the high Eb / D / C even more powerful on phrases like “God, how long?”  “shall be well,” and “come to stay.”

Though I will be singing this especially in the second week of Advent because the second and third stanza highlight the prophecies recounted this week, I hope my analysis makes it clear that it could be sung throughout the season and even into Christmastide.

One comment

  1. Thank you for bringing us these meditations on the beautiful Advent texts that you have chosen for your own prayer! The theology twined with the poetry makes this English major’s need for the aesthetic a reality. Your “analysis” is, for me, like an incisive homily on the text and, as one who hears the same homilist week after week, a most welcome reflection on the season.
    It’s nice, every once in a while, to see something posted here that does NOT have to do with “translation/new translation/Roman Missal/Liturgiam Authenticam etc………”, but feeds our spirituality rather than our differences of opinion.

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