At a recent retreat for women at my church, I heard “Light Dawns on a Weary World” for the first time. Unlike so many soul numbing repetitive hymn texts today, it had content. I had to look up more information on it. But first, the text writer: Mary Louise Bringle has a PhD in from Emory University and has taught philosophy, religious studies and French and has chaired the humanities division at Brevard College in Brevard NC. On Sundays, she teaches an adult class at her local Presbyterian Church. She has several publications on pastoral theology to her credit, and has translated Spanish language hymns into English. She began to write hymn texts as a supposed heretic would write, in order to challenge her students. But one day a former student asked her to write a text for a tune he wrote for his wedding. Now she had to get serious about writing actual hymn texts. Apparently God meant for her to do this. Just like solid modern text writers Ruth Duck and Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, she wrote the text for tunes composed by others that challenge and illuminate. And this is from what can only be a feminist point of view for like them, she is seeks to be gender inclusive. She has won many hymn writing contests and the Hymn Society in the US and Canada named her an “emerging text writer”.
“Light Dawns on a Weary World” was written in 2001. She wrote out its story in an article in The Hymn in Autumn, 2006. You can read the story in her own words at https://www.hymnary.org/files/articles/Bringle,%20Light%20Dawns%20on%20a%20Weary%20World.pdf . For a quick version, here goes: When the Hymn Society met in 2001, composer William Rowan wrote and played a new melody for her and as she said, “It was love at first listen.” The words came to her that evening. One of the bars has a sixteenth note run that reminded her of water in a fountain. She found the chapters from Isaiah written when Cyrus of Persia released the Jewish captives to return to Judah. “. . . you will be like a well-watered garden. . “ (Is. 58:11). Before that she found Isaiah 55:12: “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace”. The words fell into place with the melody. The words reflect Isaiah’s vision of a beloved community for all peoples. After publication, she got feedback from several music directors that the hymn was particularly appropriate for Lent, a season of waiting for new hope in a weary life. And so I write this article at the beginning of Lent.