So Great a Love
By Mel Bringle
In presenting the Epiphany text “A Sunburst of Glory,” I introduced the topic of “deep incarnation,” originally propounded by Danish theologian Niels Gregersen. According to this doctrine, when the Word became flesh, God in Christ embraced human beings and all material reality.
Theologians like Elizabeth Johnson (Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love) have extended this doctrine to a view of “deep resurrection.” Here, God’s saving work further encompasses “all flesh”: the whole cosmos is destined for gathering up into the new creation in Christ. While Western Christianity’s majority perspective has focused heavily on human sin and redemption, a broader theme of cosmic redemption appears in a few key places in scripture (Romans 8, Colossians 1, and Ephesians 1). A key implication of this minority view is that beings other than humans—nonhuman animals, for example—also have a life beyond the grave.
Our hymn traditions are largely silent on this topic. Therefore, I decided to write a hymn to memorialize the deaths of animals, particularly those who have been our close companions. Sally Ann Morris graciously supplied a tune, which we decided jointly to name HIKER, after a beloved golden retriever who had graced Sally’s family from 2004–2014.
“So Great a Love” begins with the affirmation from Genesis 1 that the God who spoke creation into being by saying, “Let there be light,” subsequently called each creation “good.”
Stanza two moves to the affirmation (found, for example, in Psalm 148) that all parts of the creation join in praising God, who, in the image of process theology, is the One who lures each of us toward growth. All creatures live by God’s gift of breath (Psalm 104:29–30); like humans, animal creatures also receive God’s blessing (Genesis 1:22).
Stanza three honors how creatures model faithful, non-judgmental loving, ready in their sensitive, wordless fashion to share in our joy and grief, offering us comfort that sometimes surpasses what any human could offer.
The final stanza suggests that what God can create in the first place, God can re-create in the fullness of time: whether by holding creatures in the divine memory (in what process theology refers to as “objective immortality”) or by resurrecting creatures into individual (“subjective”) new lives. Those familiar with Eleanor Farjeon’s hymn “Morning Has Broken” may hear a resonance of her line about the first creation, “Praise for them springing, fresh from the Word,” in my allusion to the “wild” hope for new creation.
Scripture: Genesis 1:1–3, 20–25; Psalm 104:14–30; Psalm 148; Isaiah 65:17–25; Revelation 21
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Mary Louise (Mel) Bringle is Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies and coordinator of the Integrated Studies major at Brevard College in Brevard, NC. Her original hymn texts and translations are included in hymnals and supplements of numerous denominations in North America and Scotland. She has served as President of The Hymn Society and chair of the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song, responsible for creating the 2013 PCUSA hymnal Glory to God. In the summer of 2020, she was named a Fellow of the Hymn Society.
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