1. These shells which cup such precious pearls
are like our hands that cradle hope,
which reach to others out of love;
we seek assurance, strength to cope.
2. The pearls that hold a core of grit
are like the grace that we have found,
though life is troubled, sharp and sour,
God folds in love when hurt is found.
3. And so with hands like open shell
we offer pearls of greatest price,
the spirit’s power, the grace of God
and Jesus’ loving sacrifice.
Words: Andrew Pratt (born 1948) © Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, www.stainer.co.uk.
Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.
Music: © Barbara Honeyball Young
The words and music of “Oyster Shells” were written at an ArtServe conference in 2009 for a service built around the image of oyster shells found on a beach. Andrew Pratt was inspired in part by the idea of the “pearl of great price” – an image that Jesus uses to illustrate the inestimable value of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 13: 45-6). In addition, Andrew says that he has “always been fascinated by the image of grit irritating an oyster and the consequence being a pearl. The hymn explores this idea, linking the image with life experience and God’s grace.” He also adds that, “years ago, studying zoology, I had a fascination with British marine bivalve molluscs! But that’s another story!”
Against Barbara Honeyball Young’s gentle melody, the words “though life is troubled, sharp and sour” (v.2) stand out in sharp and unexpected contrast, as the author surely intended. Words and music are quickly brought back into harmony, however, reflecting Christian reassurance in the love of God as seen in Christ’s self-sacrifice.
Ideas for singing
This is a hymn that feels essentially prayer-like and so may serve as a sung prayer. These are words that also lend themselves to being expressed in other ways – for example:
- developing an art work with oyster shells
- creating a PowerPoint presentaton of images based on the hymn
- reflecting the words in mime or dance
If you use this hymn, let us know how you use it and in what ways it has enhanced your worship.