Beauty for brokenness

Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is “Beauty for Brokenness” by Graham Kendrick.  I’m not sure whether this song was written specifically for the development charity Tearfund, but it was published around the time of their 25th anniversary and they certainly adopted it as being a perfect description of their work and their theological stance.

Let’s look at the chorus first, which to save the song being overly long is usually sung after the second, fourth and fifth verses only. “God of the poor, friend of the weak, give us compassion we pray”. That is Tearfund in a nutshell: supporting churches around the world to respond to the needs of the poor and weak in their communities, with the love of God and the compassion that can only really be shown by those who live alongside them. 

It goes on, “melt our cold hearts, let tears fall like rain, come change our love from a spark to a flame”. I admit to feeling ‘compassion fatigue’, the thought that all the money, time and prayers I have given over the years to the work of Tearfund and similar agencies is in vain, when there is still so much need, so much discrimination and structural injustice in the world.  But the words and works of Jesus suggest that however little we achieve, it is still recognised by God: “whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me”.

The first of the five verses starts with the vision of what development work can achieve: “Beauty for brokenness, hope for despair”. It’s not just about the day-to-day practicalities that follow (“bread for the children”) but about a message of the hope of God’s kingdom that can transform lives. “Sunrise to sunset, your kingdom increase”.

The second verse reflects the reality that war is behind much suffering: “Refuge from cruel wars, havens from fear, cities for sanctuary, freedoms to share, peace to the killing fields, scorched earth to green”, but finishes with a specifically religious vision, “Christ for the bitterness, his cross for their pain”.

The third verse speaks of medical work and provision of training and trade opportunities and land for farming, programmes that help local communities become self-sufficient, and also the advocacy work that forms much of Tearfund’s success (“voices to plead the cause of those who can’t speak”).  

The fourth verse speaks of the ecological emergency that has only become a mainstream concern in the last few years, though the song was written in 1993. “Rest for the ravaged earth, oceans and streams, plundered and poisoned, our future, our dreams”. We pray “Lord, end this madness, carelessness, greed, make us content with the things that we need”.

The final verse turns clearly to Jesus who is the only one who can truly change the world. “Lighten our darkness, breathe on this flame, until your justice burns brightly again, until the nations learn of your ways, seek your salvation and bring you their praise”. If verse 4 could have been written by Greta Thunberg, verse 5 could have come from the mouth of Isaiah.

You might gather from this lengthy commentary that this is one of my favourite hymns, for the music as well as the words. It deserves the classic status it has won in the churches. If you wish to donate to the work of Tearfund, they are currently appealing for support for their work in Afghanistan and you can donate here.

2 thoughts on “Beauty for brokenness”

  1. Well, there might seem little to add to Stephen’s comments, but what impresses me particularly about this hymn is the way it is so faithful to the Old Testament’s outcries against injustices and inequalities so many years ago, and how those protests carry over so well into the modern day. Verse 5 could have come from Isaiah, but many of the other phrases come out of the OT, including some key ideas such as cities of sanctuary, do also. But there are more modern phrases, such as “killing fields” and “ravaged earth” and “rights for the poor”, which make it clear that Graham Kendrick hasn’t just translated the OT but interpreted it too. And, of course, it does go explicitly into Jesus as being the remedy and the rescuer.

    An internet search revealed a “cram” essay, which states: “This song was written in 1993 for the twenty fifth anniversary of “Tear Fund” a charity passionate about ending poverty. Kendrick wrote the song after his visit to India in 1992 and witnessing the contrast between the Indian poverty and Western affluence” … unfortunately the rest of the essay seems to be behind a firewall, but Stephen is correct in his guess about its origins. However, Graham Kendrick speaks himself about the song on a YouTube video at:
    saying that it is partly inspired by Psalm 113.

    I confess I was disappointed in the rearrangement of the tune offered in the Sing Praise book, which rejected some of the better features of the “original” (by which I mean the version at 806 Mission Praise (1990)): why no descending semitones in the bass at the beginning of the bass, and why keep the somewhat odd syncopated interlude between the verses? [Listening to the brief clip of the song at the end of the video makes it clear that this syncopation is simply an attempt to reproduce a guitar’s strumming on the keyboard, and if the accompaniment of the rest of the song doesn’t do this then there is no good reason for the interlude to do it either!] So when singing it myself I stuck to MP. Sadly, neither book offers the whole hymn on one page-spread.

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