Wild and lone the prophet’s voice
Source: Singing the Faith: 189
Words: Carl Daw
Music: “La Grange” by David Ashley White
Alternative tune – Aberystwyth (StF 355i)
Ideas for use
This text is paired with David Ashley White’s tune “La Grange” in Singing the Faith but “Aberystwyth” (at StF 355) is a given alternative, which Carl Daw agrees makes an effective alternative tune. Both tunes have a steady rhythm in a minor key, underpinning the serious nature of the Advent message (see below).
This hymn can be made starkly dramatic by the use of a strong solo voice taking on the role of John the Baptist, who is quoted / paraphrased at length in the second half of verse 1 and throughout verse 2. For a congregation to hear John’s words sung to them boldly will be a startling experience – a challenge to complacency and a contrast to the sweet, comforting, tinselly version of Christmas that more commonly surrounds us.
“Wild and lone the prophet’s voice” was written for a Hymn Society of America competition for Advent hymns in 1985.
By examining the teachings of John the Baptist, Carl Daw’s words remind us that, to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ, is a task that involves hard work, tough choices, and unflinching acceptance of divine justice: “Turn from sin and be baptised; / cleanse your heart and mind and soul… Soon the Lord will come in power, / burning clean the threshing floor…”
Carl Daw has identified the strong commands in verse 1 (“Turn from sin,” “be baptized,” “cleanse your heart,” “yield your life to God’s control”) as outlining “the path of a conversion experience – God’s gift of space to turn around in”. (See Michael Hawn’s 2006 article about this hymn.)
The hymn is rich in biblical reference. Carl Daw observes that “all four gospels identity John the Baptist with the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3” (“A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the Lord…”), but that the preaching attributed to John in verses 1 and 2 is based primarily on the account in the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 3, verses 1 to 12). He also notes that “there are intentional echoes here of Galatians 5:22-23 and Colossians 3:1-2.
The hymns of the Revd Dr. Carl P. Daw, Jr. have appeared in numerous hymn books. He is also represented in Singing the Faith by his evocative hymn describing the movement and work of the Holy Spirit, “Like the murmur of the dove’s song” (StF 389). The first collected edition of his texts, A Year of Grace: Hymns for the Church Year (from which both his StF contributions are drawn), was published 1990
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Daw grew up in a succession of towns in Tennessee where his father was a Baptist pastor. Following a period of study and then eight years of teaching in the English Department of the College of William and Mary, Virginia, he trained for the episcopal ministry.