Hymns for Hiroshima

Photo: Reuters

Hiroshima Day is marked every year on 6 August, the day in 1945 on which the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima in Japan. Our article Hiroshima – the fallout provides more detail about the events of that day, with links to additional resources for reflection and worship.

The event Hiroshima Day marks raises some of the most profound of human questions. About:

  • the harnessing of the earth’s resources for purposes of devastating destruction
  • the task of peacemaking and the challenges this can pose for Christians
  • hope and forgiveness

Are there hymns in Singing the Faith and on the StF+ website that help us reflect on these issues?

We may wish to begin with finding ways to express our continuing horror at the suffering of many thousands of Japanese citizens one Monday morning as they began the week’s work.

A bloodied child foreshadowed by a cross (website only) is one of Andrew Pratt’s most powerful recent hymns, written in response to the photo of a little boy rescued from a bombed building in Allepo. The response Andrew evokes speaks as much to our vision of a destroyed city as to the cries of a single child:

How long, O Lord we cry, each hollow word,
our pleas of peace increasingly absurd?
Good God, forgive us when inaction’s voice
speaks loudly of our violent, hurtful choice.

The "atomic bomb dome", Hiroshima

Extending our understanding of what happened at Hiroshima into the still wider context of how we steward God’s creation (thoughts here, also, of Chernobyl and other nuclear disasters), few have phrased our relationship with the earth better than Fred Pratt Green: God in his love for us lent us this planet (StF 727). He mourns the fact that “long has earth bowed to the terror of force”. Shirley Erena Murray’s Touch the earth lightly (StF 729) references her memory of France’s nuclear tests in the Pacific. She places this within a broader response to our unforgiving disregard of the world’s natural resources:

Touch the earth lightly,
use the earth gently,
nourish the life of the world in our care

Issues at least as complex lie around how we respond to those who threaten us militarily; what we say about those who would take up arms, as did the pilot of the B-29 bomber over Hiroshima, or those who would take a pacifist stance. As we absorb the words of Churchill (“By God’s mercy, Britain and American science outpaced all German efforts . . . We must indeed pray that these awful agencies will be made to conduce peace among the nations . . . “), we know that the whole gamut of responses to military response is present within our Christian communities. In this, our contemporary hymn writers have served us well.

© 2017 iStockphoto LP

Gary Hopkins (When our views are varied, website only) speaks of the need for respectful sharing of viewpoints, noting that:

If we let division
distract from Christ’s reign,
we neglect our calling
to aid those in pain

Ian Smart invites this same response/challenge to the communion table where “‘peacemaker and peacebreaker’, soldier and pacifist, victor and victim are all welcome” (In war, in peace, website only).

For the table where bread and wine are shared is “a table of hope”. And it is hope, apparently against the odds, that Christians hold to as they express the way God wants the world to be. We not only express our vision of a transformed world where “divisions which hurt and destroy will all disappear” (Ruth Duck’s There is a new heaven; there is a new earth, StF 738); we also insist that God’s bias towards mercy encompasses the social and international as well as the personal.

Candles and cranes - Hiroshima memorial event, Coventry 2012 (Photo: Hiroshima Coventry Club)

Brian Wren’s Great God, your love has called us here (StF 499), for example, helps us understand that that too often we are swept long by social forces and become “close confined” by powers and systems. These also require a form of forgiveness to precipitate healing. (As expressed perhaps by the annual communication between Hiroshima and Coventry’s civic leaders on 6 August.) It is the Christian task to help societies “turn from guilt and dull despair / and offer all that faith can do, / while love is making all things new.”

Nevertheless, by echoing the Lamb of God who takes the world’s sins away and who has barely comprehensible mercy on us (Glory, glory, glory, StF 754: There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, StF 416), the task of healing becomes personal.

Is this our response to Hiroshima – that as we proclaim God’s mercy, we seek out “a new, a perfect heart, / free from all doubt and fear at last” (Charles Wesley’s God of all power, and truth, and grace, StF 498) and find ourselves impelled to action:

We shall make peace, obedient to God’s Spirit,
We shall make peace, because the world is wrong:
Wrong, when each injury is left to fester;
Wrong, when the weeds of blame grow in the sun.
We’ll plant our loving hearts in fields of hatred,
Nurture forgiveness to withstand the storm.
(Vince Gilbert, website only)

Categories: Articles, Big questions, Special Sundays and weeks, Worship Resources.

3 Responses to Hymns for Hiroshima

  1. David Hamflett says:

    Remembering that 6th August is also the feast of the Transfiguration (although our lectionary looks at this on the Sunday before Lent), those with access to the Church of Scotland’s hymn book Church Hymnary 4 may like to look at hymn 353 in that book, ‘Bright the cloud and bright the glory’ by Carl P Daw, Jr., which deals with both the Transfiguration and Hiroshima.

    • Editor says:

      David – many thanks for this. I was conscious of this connection when compiling the above piece but didn’t want to run the risk of getting overly complicated here – not least because, as you note, the Methodist Church in Britain marks the Transfiguration at an alternative point in the Church calendar. (Though the Feast is marked on 6 August by a substantial section of Christian denominations, including many Orthodox traditions and, interestingly, the United Methodist Church.) During my research, I came across this interesting-sounding liturgy resource from the Iona Community, in which the Revd Norman Shanks draws comparisons/contrasts between the Transfiguration and the Hiroshima event: http://www.ionabooks.com/liturgy-for-the-feast-of-the-transfiguration-pdf-download.html

      And thanks, too, for reminding of us what a fine hymn writer Carl Daw is!

      • David Hamflett says:

        Again from The Iona Community, there is also some liturgical material by Kathy Galloway and Cally Booker in ‘Acorns and Archangels’ comp Ruth Burgess pub. Wild Goose Publications (Pages 20 – 23 & 24) on the Transfiguration and Hiroshima. For me it’s the contrast between the two different kinds of cloud and light between the Transfiguration and Hiroshima that makes it all so poignant, with maybe echoes of Teilhard de Chardin’s ‘Suicide or adoration?’ question.

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