Heal us, Immanuel! Hear our prayer
Source: Singing the Faith: 650
Words: William Cowper
Music: “St Hugh” by Edward John Hopkins
Metre: 86.86. Common Metre
Ideas for use
With its references to healing miracles and Cowper’s to ill health of all kinds, this hymn is particularly suitable for use during Services of Healing. You may wish to sing the whole hymn quietly, as a sung prayer.
Consider topping and tailing the hymn with the two Gospel readings that it draws upon, prefacing it with Mark 9: 16-27 and following it with Mark 5: 24-34 – and leaving space for silent reflection following each reading.
William Cowper’s Christian passion and human vulnerability are nowhere more evident than in this hymn. Its words suggest the deep commitment of faith while also having something poignant about them.
Typically of Cowper, he takes a gospel story (in this case, two) but reflects on it in a highly personal way – turning it around and comprehending how it applies to his own experience. In his preface to the New Oxford Book of Christian Verse, Donald Davie says of Cowper that he is not a clergyman-poet writing from the pulpit but “one of those who sit at their feet, reporting faithfully how it seems to him, there in the pew”. Heal us Immanuel! Is a particularly good example of that approach and a challenge to any service goer to try and engage with the preacher or with the hymns and to ask themselves “how it seems to them”.
Cowper draws on two of Jesus’ healing miracles: in v.2 by quoting the father of an epileptic boy brought to Jesus (Mark 9: 16-27) (also see comments about God moves in a mysterious way, StF 104); and in vv.4-5 by succinctly re-telling the story of the women suffering from continual bleeding (Mark 5: 24-34).
Both stories evoke the power of ‘touch’, which Cowper speaks about in the first and last verses. However, he uses those stories of physical touch and healing to reflect upon mental and psychological healing:
Deep-wounded souls to you repair,
and, Saviour, we are such.
Perhaps more clearly than in any other of his hymns (even God moves in a mysterious way), Cowper reveals something of the darkness, the mental ill health, which would cause him real anguish. When it was published in Olney Hymns in 1779, the text was headed “Jehovah-Rophi, I am the Lord that healeth thee, Exodus xv”, where Jehovah-Rophi means “the God who heals me”. Cowper is characteristically applying the healing power to himself and to those of us who reflect upon his words.
For more about William Cowper, see Pain and passion – the hymns of William Cowper.