Hymn of the Week: How Did You Feel When You Come Out of the Wilderness

March 21, 2014 § 1 Comment

Like most of us, I love old church music, and I also love new-to-me church music. Last week I had that rare, delightful experience of hearing an old and beloved hymn for the first time: How Did You Feel When You Come Out of the Wilderness

There are quite a few variations on the lyrics circulating now, and even more variations recorded back at least to the nineteenth century – including some that began, “Go into the wilderness.” Generally it goes something like,

Tell me how did you feel when you come out the wilderness, come out the wilderness, come out of the wilderness

How did you feel when you come out of the wilderness

Leaning on the Lord

This hymn poses a question which, on the face of it, sounds pretty easy to answer. I felt fantastic! My soul felt happy! I felt like shouting!  I’ve personally felt a rush of joy making it out of the woods at dusk with dying flashlight batteries, or out of Indiana after visiting family in Kansas. Forget forty years in the desert.

But the striking thing about the form of a question is that it brings to mind the immediacy of experience, the immediacy of memory. It brings to mind the moment of existing in-between: not only in the joy of reaching what was promised and hoped for, but also shaped by the long road of struggle which sometimes seemed impossible to make it through. The experience of God, present amid people who are suffering and as one who suffers, but also leading us into liberation and rebirth, is most vivid in this in-between moment. Remembering urges us back to this deep connection with God.

The question, in evoking a response (Did you love everybody? Did you tell everybody? Did you feel like clapping?) , is also a call to action.  One version of the hymn includes the lines,

My hands looked new when I came out of the wilderness

My feet did too when I came out of the wilderness

 Something is lost, or more often everything seems lost, but the body in solidarity is stronger. Deeply enmeshed in God and embodying God’s action, it becomes something new, beautiful, and communicative.

– Aaron Miner

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