My kids and I sang Rory Cooney’s Canticle of the Turning with our choir this Sunday. The lyrics are based on the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise when she learns that she will give birth to Jesus, the baby who will usher in a time of peace when the wolf lies down with the lamb, when swords are beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks:
My soul cries out with a joyful shout that the God of my heart is great,
And my spirit sings of the wondrous things that you bring to the ones who wait.
You fixed your sight on your servant’s plight, and my weakness you did not spurn,
So from east to west shall my name be blessed.
Could the world be about to turn?
Though I am small, my God, my all, you work great things in me,
And your mercy will last from the depths of the past to the end of the age to be.
Your very name puts the proud to shame, and those who would for you yearn,
You will show your might, put the strong to flight, for the world is about to turn.
From the halls of power to the fortress tower, not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears every tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more, for the food they can never earn;
There are tables spread, every mouth be fed, for the world is about to turn.
Though the nations rage from age to age, we remember who holds us fast:
God’s mercy must deliver us from the conqueror’s crushing grasp.
This saving word that our forebears heard is the promise which holds us bound,
‘Til the spear and rod can be crushed by God, who is turning the world around.
My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
And the world is about to turn.
In the hour before, I had been with the 4th and 5th graders at our church in Sunday School, trying to make sense of the lectionary text from the Book of Mark on which the lesson was based. Jesus describes the apocalypse and signs of the end times to his disciples: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines…” And what will happen to the magnificent edifices built by man? As Mary sings: “Not a stone will be left on stone.”
A terrifying vision. A terrifying reality.
The background information provided to teachers of this week’s lesson entitled “Future Hope” read: “Earthquakes, terror, economic crisis – the times in which we live bring challenge and doubt; our faith can become battered by fear, rather than buoyed by trust…” Indeed. Given recent events, the lesson seemed weirdly prescient and disturbingly apt; the exhortation to hope – absurd.
Over the weekend my fellow teachers and I had had a brief email exchange to decide whether or not to discuss the acts of terror that had just occurred around the world during class on Sunday. We decided that we would not bring them up ourselves, but would be prepared for a discussion if the children wanted to talk about the attacks. They didn’t.
We tried to strike a hopeful tone. We talked about the ways in which life has improved over the years with advances in medicine and the end of the Cold War as examples. We sang How Firm a Foundation, in which we are reassured that:
When through the deep waters I call you to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow,
for I will be with you in trouble to bless,
and sanctify to you your deepest distress.
Honestly, I was finding little comfort in these words.
At the end of the hour, the children were asked to draw a picture of or to write about their hopes for the future. I wish I had thought to take some photos of their work! Here are a few of the radical and simple ideas they came up with:
- Food, water, and books for everyone.
- World peace.
- No war. No hunger. No illness.
My faith may be battered by fear, but I am buoyed by the innate goodness of children and their dreams for a secure future for everyone. May we all find a way to live as they do: not in fear, but with hope for a world about to turn.