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Hymns With Positive Darkness Imagery

For many years theologians and worship leaders in various circles have been discussing the prevalence of light and darkness imagery found in both the biblical, liturgical, and hymnological language of the church. While it is undeniably a metaphor that can be helpful, theologians and activists of color have pointed toward the harm that this imagery can do when combined with the past and current racial realities where lighter skin is associated with being more positive, desirable, or better. For more on that conversation, you can read about it in this article by Religion News Services posted on December 7th, 2022:

While the theological and broader liturgical language parts of this conversation is beyond our scope here at The Center for Congregational Song, we thought it would be helpful to highlight some congregational song that bucks the longstanding metaphorical trend of “dark is bad/sad” and “light is good/happy.” Regardless of where you fall in this conversation, I hope that we can agree that it is a healthy thing for the church’s text writers to continue digging deeply into the biblical witness to help God’s people sing as faithfully as possible. And, because God is so big and so good, we’ll never fully capture it using any human language. So, seeking to expand our hymnological language is an important task because there is so much more about God and God’s work that we need to sing about.


“Joyful Is The Dark” by Brian Wren

When you want a prophetic voice in class hymnody, always have Brian Wren on your short-list. This text addresses this topic exactly and is copyright 1989. Found in some major denominational hymnals like the Chalice Hymnal (Disciples of Christ), Glory to God (Presbyterian USA), Voices United (United Church of Canada), and Voices Together (Mennonite), this is one of the most well-known of the hymns we’ll reference in this list.


“Holy Darkness” by Dan Schutte

A well-known writer because of his hymn “Here I Am, Lord,” Dan Schutte has many other wonderful texts and tunes that often don’t find their way into Protestant resources as much as they should. This text, also copyrighted in the late 1980s, is another one that addresses this topic directly.


“God In The Darkness” by Elizabeth J. Smith

This text acknowledges the complexity of darkness. Stanza one addresses the role of darkness as a place of creation and growth. Stanza two addresses the role darkness places in times of grief and sadness. Stanza three addresses the role of darkness as one of hope, dreaming, and ultimately renewal.


“In The Deep Unbounded Darkness” by Mary Louise Bringle

What list of prophetic hymn texts is complete without a Mel Bringle reference? While this text does not necessarily cast darkness as a positive thing, it also certainly does not use it negatively. Situating God in the darkness before creation, Bringle does not bring in any light imagery in this text. So, the darkness is not positive or negative…it just is.


“Brother Darkness, Sister Silence” by Richard Leach

This text by Richard Leach will really push your congregation forward by using familial language for both darkness and silence, two things which get really bad wraps in modern American church culture in general. Not found in any hymnals, you can get access to the text via his collection Carpenter, Why Leave the Bench” (link here) which has many other hidden treasures you’ll enjoy singing through.


Other Resources & Links:

A “Coffee & Hymns” Episode from April 2020 on this subject:

A hymn writer’s blog with a page dedicated to this topic:


May your congregational song be blessed by holy darkness.

Blogger Brian Hehn is the Director of The Center for Congregational Song



Felicia Patton is a lifelong Chicago native and worship leader at Urban Village Church. Felicia received an undergraduate degree from North Park University followed by two graduate degrees from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.




Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord. (Isaiah 2:5, NIV)


How do we tell the story

How do we tell the story of Jesus through song? I have asked myself this question every year when starting to plan for the Advent/Christmas season. When I first started as a choir director, I pulled out all of the bells and whistles in order to give the congregation a story they would never forget. There were fireworks, and Jesus came down from the ceiling (please note that liberties were taken in the retelling of stories for entertainment purposes only). My conducting baton was a light-saber that would light up purple and lead the ensembles in a magnificent dance of liturgy and song. The ideas that flew out of my brain were endless. I loved everything about planning it. After every successful Advent/Christmas season, I would nap and have a good burger. I deserved it; I had made God proud. I could rest.  But after a few years of consistent work and fatigue, I found myself dreading the upcoming seasons. The expectations had been set, and I was struggling to find inspiration. The demand for something new and familiar had me stuck in my own head. My brain was empty and dark. I wondered how I could spark the light within myself while telling the story of the light of the world. See what I did there?

The expectations had been set, and I was struggling to find inspiration.


I struggled

I struggled to find a response to that question. How could I find new inspiration within the biblical stories that have been told for many years? In order to find new inspiration, I had to step away from what I knew, and I had to listen. I got so comfortable with what I thought I knew about these stories that I didn’t turn to God for inspiration. In order to get out of this rut, I had to stop and reflect on my practices as a leader and develop new practices in order to lead the communities that I have been privileged to serve in a thoughtful and informed way.

The first practice I implemented was to start each season with a renewed mindset. Think about it in relation to a physical light. When a light goes out in our house, we would change it, right? If we cannot find the light (inspiration), we might have a burned out light source. If we are depending on a burned out light bulb which initially had light, but is not a source of light anymore, then we should change it. Are we listening for the voice of God, the light, or are we depending on what God gave us in a previous season?  But what do we do with the light we have used?  We recycle it. We can recycle this wisdom and impart it in the people that we lead. When led by the voice of God, any light can burn out, but is not unusable.

Are we listening for the voice of God, the light, or are we depending on what God gave us in a previous season?


A Light Source

Working without a light source is not a good way to lead.  As leaders, we have to refresh and renew our ministries.  We cannot do this without a light source.  One of the texts in the 2019 planning guide for the United Methodist Church is Isaiah 2:5: “Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”  That brings to mind the song, “Jesus, the Light of the World” written by Mrs. James Vincent  Coombs. The text speaks of walking in the light, a phrase that resonates with me deeply. If we are to have light in our ministries, we have to “walk in the light” of God in our everyday lives. If our relationship with God is constantly being renewed and allowed the space to grow, the light will never burn out. But the only way to have space for the “light” is to make space for it. We cannot get so weighed down by expectations that we do not allow ourselves to grow as leaders. If we do not make space or change the bulb periodically, the light within us is doomed to burn out.


Jesus, the Light of the world

Beautiful light (well it’s a beautiful light)

Come where the dewdrops of mercy shine bright (Oh Lord)

Shine all around us by day and by night

Jesus is the light of the world

— Mrs. James Vincent  Coombs, 1898, Public Domain


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