We create so that YOU will create. Creativity begets creativity, after all.
When we released information about our Unraveled customizable worship series, a member of our community, Rev. Stephen Fearing, was inspired to write a hymn for each of the 12 scriptures in the series. He has graciously offered PDFs of these hymns (set to familiar tunes) for you to use in congregational worship and ministry settings. These hymns beautifully parallel the visual art and worship resources in our Unraveled bundle.
I asked Rev. Fearing to share a bit about his creative process writing these hymns:
“As a solo pastor, hymn writer, liturgist, and preacher, I’ve long appreciated the resources of A Sanctified Art and have used them to invite the congregations I serve into a deeper sense of wonder of God’s Word. Therefore, I decided to challenge myself to write one hymn for each of the stories in the Unraveled series. I wrote many of these on the road while traveling to and from Richmond, VA, for a pastor’s retreat and Minneapolis, MN, for the Festival of Homiletics. Nearly two months later, I’ve completed my task. Not all of them are my most polished hymns, but then again, sometimes becoming unraveled is not always the most polished process.
Some of the hymns came about rather naturally and organically. “Unraveled By Uncertainty” was written in under an hour because I felt that the tune, “KINGSFOLD,” fit so nicely with the text, and the words just flowed. Other hymns, such as, “Rizpah Was a Loving Mother,” were, well, a bit more challenging. However, part of my calling as a hymn writer is to explore difficult texts, the ones that have seldom, or never, been the subject of a hymn. Some of the hymns like, “Give Us Laughter Unexpected,” are meant to express a freeing sense of joy in a world that seems so heavy. Others, like, “Our Shame Feels Like a Spiral,” are meant to engage in a difficult conversation about the shame-based culture in which we live.
I’m grateful that A Sanctified Art’s mission is not only sharing their creativity, but also inspiring OUR creativity as worship leaders in diverse contexts! I hope you find these hymns helpful in your worship planning as you explore the deep well of creativity that is this Unraveled worship series. I’m always looking for more hymns to write so if there is a hymn that you would like commissioned for your congregation or to serve a specific purpose, I’m always open to requests!”
—Rev. Stephen M. Fearing
We invite you to scroll through the hymns below, sharing them with your worship and music leaders. If you have any questions or requests, you can contact Rev. Fearing here.
1. “Give Us Laughter Unexpected”
(Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7)
When I was tasked with writing a hymn about laughter, I knew it had to be sung to “HYMN TO JOY.” It was, in fact, a joy to write a hymn about “mirth that mothers us to health” when God just does God’s own amazing thing because, well, God just can!
“Give us laughter unexpected, mirth that mothers us to health,
Bubbling up from deep within us, endless source of wondrous wealth,
May our tears flow o’er our cheekbones, not of sorrow but of mirth,
Freely flowing silly giggles, ones that mend this broken earth.”
2. “Unraveled By Uncertainty”
The title of this hymn came directly from A Sanctified Art’s theme for this scripture. “unRAVeled BY unCERTainTY” has a natural rhythm with 8 syllables that fits perfectly in any number of tunes. The last verse was particularly cathartic to write.
“When doctors give the painful news, when memory starts to fade,
When bullets fly and children die, and trust has been betrayed,
Come, Jesus, save us from the depths and hold our hands secure,
When certainty seems but a dream, your steadfast love endure.”
3. “Rizpah Was a Loving Mother”
(2 Samuel 21:1-14)
I’m not going to lie; this one was tough. Since I’m neither a parent nor a woman, I tried to give my authentic voice to this heartbreaking story while not pretending to know what it’s like to be a “Rizpah.” The final verse, “Hear the parents all around us, those whose children live in fear / see their anguish at the violence, let’s make justice persevere” was written with the parents of children killed in school shootings in mind.
“Through her lengthy, public vigil, Rizpah preached, she testified.
She showed us the senseless violence, Rizpah’s grief was justified.
May we learn from her insistence, may we cease our pointless rage.
May we witness this hard story, usher in a kinder age.”
4. “We Make Such Careful Plans, O Lord”
For this hymn, I imagined Zacchaeus to be a man who thought he had it all figured out. Go to work. Rip people off. Go home. Sleep. Repeat. But sometimes Jesus invites himself over to our house and stirs things up. From a metrical standpoint, this was the hardest hymn to write as it’s the first one I’ve written in 126.96.36.199.6.6 and with an ABAABB rhyme scheme.
“We make such careful plans, O Lord; we think we know your mind.
We do all things on our accord and seek to find our own reward.
Despite all we’ve designed, sometimes we’re misaligned.”
5. “Pharaoh Was a Brutal Tyrant”
(Exodus 5:1-2; 7:8-23)
This is one of two hymns written in this series with Pharaoh as the ultimate villain. I used the last verse as a call to action and to bring this timeless story into our own context:
“We have Pharaohs all around us; maybe we are like him, too.
May we heed God’s call to kindness, may we see God’s grace ensue.
God will turn God’s sure attention to the place where there’s despair,
Let us join in God’s salvation for all people everywhere.”
6. “Saul Left For Damascus”
Although my first instinct was to write a hymn from Ananias’ perspective called, “Are You $%#@ing Kidding Me!?” I eventually decided for a somewhat gentler approach. This hymn is a more basic paraphrase of the theophany described in Acts 9. There’s so much vivid imagery and drama in this passage that it’s really fun to write a hymn about it!
“His friends had to lead him for now he was blind.
They came to Damascus by God’s own design.
God sent Ananias to tell Saul God’s plan.
Saul’s sight was restored and he was a new man!”
7. “Jeremiah Sent a Letter”
Ever since I had Kathleen O’Connor as my Old Testament professor, I’ve always had a deep love for the Book of Jeremiah. This text reminds me that we’re all in some kind of exile, some kinds that are imposed on us and others that we impose on ourselves. No matter our exile, we’re called to “seek the welfare of the city” and allow God’s truth and mercy to infuse the messiness of our lives. Pastoral note: this should not be used as an excuse to keep people in exile. EVER!
“Sometimes, Lord, we find ourselves in places we don’t want to be—
Places full of pain and anguish, places craving jubilee.
May we in the times of exile serve our God courageously,
In the moments of our trials, may we love all faithfully".”
8. “Our Shame Feels Like a Spiral”
OK, I’m not going to lie. I channelled my inner Brené Brown on this one! Instead of doing a paraphrase of John 4:1-29, I opted to simply write a hymn that explores shame. Now that I’ve written a hymn on shame, my next one is going to be on vulnerability (thanks, Brené!).
“Our shame feels like a spiral, a never-ending depth.
Our past weighs down our present; we’re burdened by its breadth.
We feel ourselves unraveled, unworthy, and undone;
exhausted from the gauntlet and judged by every one.”
9. “Why Must Doubt Be Such a Bad Thing?”
Oh, Thomas. He gets such a bad reputation. This hymn seeks to redeem Thomas from the baggage that we’ve put on him throughout the centuries. What if doubt is how we build and explore the gift of faith? Why is that such a bad thing?!
“Why must doubt be such a bad thing?Why must Thomas be so shamed?
Through his trauma he was kept from seeing what his friends had claimed.
He was in the depths of grieving, stuck in his own deathly tomb.
In his sorrow Thomas left them, soon his hidden hope would bloom.”
Of these 12 hymns, this one, by far, has the most characters. A child. A mother. A sister. A daughter. And a cruel tyrant who ironically begins paying for the mother of a child (whom he has ordered to be murdered!) to nurse that very same child!
“A child born into peril now lives in Pharaoh’s court.
A tyrant’s thirst for power at risk within his fort.
A daughter finds a newborn, a young one almost drowned.
A mother’s plan unravels, but hope again is found.”
This was also a tough one. Like so many of us who have journeyed with Job, I wanted to tie this hymn up with a neat bow. But the Book of Job doesn’t allow us to do that. Sometimes we just have to trust in God’s love, even, perhaps especially, in the moments when these lines become our prayer and plea:
“Lord, each of us knows heartbreak, a pain so unexplained.
Sometimes us humans ask if it’s random or ordained.
When evil forces threaten, our careful plans unwind.
Lord, in the midst of suffering help us your wisdom find.”
12. “A Man in Wretched Agony”
Ever since my preaching professor, Anna Carter Florence, made my class read this story aloud at the busiest intersection in downtown Atlanta while traffic thundered by, I’ve always been infatuated with this story of a man with an incessant cacophony going on inside his head. An option when singing this hymn is to end the hymn, at the end of the last verse, on a “Picardy Third” (meaning to end with a major tried instead of a minor one) to symbolize the peace at the end of a harrowing journey.
“The man, renewed and purified, begs Jesus, ‘Keep me by your side.’
But Jesus bids him testify that God’s mercy may multiply!”
Rev. Stephen M. Fearing, a Georgia native and 2014 graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary, is a pastor, musician, liturgist, and hymn writer. He currently serves as the pastor of Beaumont Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Kentucky. You can find his many hymns and liturgies on his website at www.stephenmfearing.com, all of which are free for use in congregational worship. When he’s not pastoring or writing hymns, he enjoys spending time with his amazing wife, Tricia, and his beloved Golden Doodle, Elsie.