Meditations on Hymn Texts
I find hymns to be cathartic and give speech in times where words are difficult. As I study various hymns, you'll find my thoughts and ruminations on their meaning and interpretation here.
The concept of our “Social Contract” came across my radar recently as a justification for various acts of protest and violence. The theory goes like this: We are only able to live together in peace and harmony so long as we as a society collectively uphold our contract. This is the contract that says we don’t kill, we don’t steal, we generally respect those around us and we seek self-progression only so long as it doesn’t come at the expense of others. While there are tangible shades of this contract woven into our justice system, our economy, or the guiding morality of our nation, the true contract is something deeper that we innately know and follow, so long as those around us follow it, too. In times of peace and consensus, the contract is not questioned. In times of turmoil and distress, we are presented with the question: “What happens when society no longer follows that contract?” Today is that time. We sit in darkness, in dissonance with those who break our “Contract” and fume over how to respond. For some it is their word and influence, for others it is acts of protest, in extreme cases violence is met with violence. Why are we surprised? The “contract” is broken.
What is the appropriate response, then? What is justified and what has gone too far? It’s difficult to draw these boundaries in a societal structure that has no regard for straight lines. Our districts are gerrymandered, our policies are filibustered, our currency is devalued, our labor is manipulated, our standards are double. Our beloved contract is not just broken, but tattered and strewn to pieces. While we mourn the loss, the inequity, the exploitation, our adversaries profit in shelter. Inevitably, our grief moves from denial to anger and the protests begin. “What contract?”, we cry!
And yet, we are naive to think of this as a new concept or to react as if the contract has only “just” been broken. Perhaps today is the day our eyes have been opened to these injustices, but it is not the day they have begun. To treat this as a recent event is to pander to the illusion, one we like to believe as it justifies our emotion with clarity. It’s very freeing if we’re honest. There is a noble air about it that fuels us for war, as if war could be noble, and permissively enables us to break the contract in reply.
Eventually the pattern becomes clear. Our eyes glaze over with the calloused repetition that seems inescapable. The sorrow no longer fuels us, but becomes heavy. Our anger seems small and insignificant. The conversation shifts and the contract remains broken. Soon, a new generation picks up the torch, blindly fueled by that which was always true as if they are the first. We are left wondering how this illusionary contract still exists, what the paradigm will be this time, and why we still yearn for it to be true.
It is in this moment that I offer you a different Contract. Would you bend your ideals in a hopeless bargain against the “Social Contract” if there were an alternative? What if we could turn to a stronger, uncompromising Contract that would speak justice, end the strife, and bring true and lasting comfort?
Frequently positioned as an Advent hymn, "Comfort, Comfort Ye My People" speaks of this unbroken Contract, the Glory of the word of the Lord. While the text does refer to the old testament season of Advent, in which we wait for the Promised One, I do not personally find it specific enough to be confined to the Christmas season alone. While we have the privilege of looking back to Christ’s coming, we still look forward to the Hope of his return, making these words a True comfort in any season.