Deep in the darkness a starlight is gleaming
Source: Singing the Faith: 625
Words: Jan Berry
Music: “High point” by Paul Leddington Wright
Ideas for use
Though placed within the “Conflict, Suffering and Doubt” section of Singing the Faith Plus, this hymn has its roots in the readings designated for the Feast of the Epiphany – in particular the journey of the wise men to visit Jesus and the subsequent massacre of young boys by King Herod (see below). This makes the hymn suitable for the post-Christmas season.
Originally written with the tune Epiphany in mind (StF 595), Singing the Faith sets the words to a new tune by Paul Leddington Wright: “High Point”. Try beginning the hymn quietly and increasing the volume verse by verse.
In Jan Berry’s “Deep in the darkness a starlight is gleaming”, the idea of journeying (as during Advent and Epiphany – inspired by the star that offers a guiding light towards the baby Jesus in Bethlehem) combines beautifully with a frank expression of inner fears, the pain of those who suffer, and our search for physical and spiritual healing.
Jan was approached by a friend, a minister in the United Reformed Church, who was preparing a service for the Feast of the Epiphany. She couldn’t find a hymn that deals with the story of Herod’s massacre of the innocents (Matthew 2: 13-18): a terrible story that concludes the Epiphany narrative. “Unto us a boy is born has a line and that’s it.” (StF 218, v.3 – “All the little boys he killed / art Bethl’em in his fury.”)
The text that resulted has a strong theme of journeying but also reflects this difficult passage, making its themes more broadly applicable.
Verse 1 speaks of our call to set out upon a journey.
Verse 2 draws on the story and imagery of Matthew 2: 13-18 without mentioning the massacre of the innocent children specifically. This allows Jan to speak in more general terms of “God of the hurting, of innocence dying”.
In verse 3 the journey continues through dark times – the pain and uncertainty is not entirely resolved. Our experience is that there are still times of silence still and “of unspoken feeling”.
Verse 4 maintains the slight sense of continuing uncertainty: “on through the darkness, we follow your leading”.
This is a journey about searching and longing, sustained by Christian hope in the “God of the questions” (v.1) and “God of our longing” (v.4) but acknowledging that the journey is still continuing: we haven’t yet reached “the brightness of day”.
About Jan Berry
Jan is the Principal of the Open College at Luther King House Open College based in Manchester. She was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1977, and worked in Baptist/URC congregations before taking up an appointment as ecumenical chaplain at Sheffield City Polytechnic (now Sheffield Hallam University). She became a minister of the United Reformed Church and joined the staff of Northern College as tutor in practical theology in 1997.
Jan has a strong commitment to inclusive worship and liturgy. She is the author of Ritual Making Women: Shaping Rites for Changing Lives and Naming God.
For three years between 2009 and 2012, Jan was Director of the Centre for the study of Theology and Health at Holy Rood House in Thirsk. where she was responsible for setting up courses, consultations and workshops in the area of theology and health. There she also coordinated the ‘hymns for healing’ project.