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Longing for relationship – a hymn for the pandemic period

Longing for relationship – a hymn for the pandemic period

I have led music at Mass for more than five decades. One favourite is “Come Back to Me” (also called “Hosea”), written in the early 1970s by Gregory Norbet OSM.* The prophetic book of Hosea is about God’s yearning for his wayward people Israel to become faithful to him once again. Norbet’s lyrics spiritually explore human longing. 

I  find the imagery of the hymn inspiring and consoling for the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, and for the return afterwards to relationship—and maybe a newer, better relationship—for which we should strive. Here are some thoughts keyed to the three verses and then the refrain (“Long have I waited..”).

 Come back to me with all your heart.

We have been separated physically. It has been difficult to maintain all our relationships by phone, social media and other means. Especially those that happen more casually but are still important; for instance, the people with whom I share the handshake of peace at Mass but don’t really know personally—we have not greeted each other for months. I hope they are all safe. I hope we will all come back to each other. When we do, I suspect that our first encounters will be full-hearted, and I hope that our greetings will continue to be heart-felt.

Don’t let fear keep us apart.

Fear has many close relatives: good ones like caution and prudence, bad ones like panic and dread, and others.

What is the correct level of caution and prudence during the pandemic? How strictly must we keep isolated, apart? Very strictly, it has become apparent. But let us not add panic to caution lest it prevent us from caring about others and helping where we can.

Moreover, compassion tells us to recognize where precautionary measures have caused hardship at the same time as they have helped to prevent even worse harms. For some, isolation has meant hunger, or sleeping rough rather than in homeless shelters. And the isolation resulted in some people dying without family or friends present; the grief caused is irremediable.

Trees do bend, though straight and tall; so must we to others call.

We have learned that all of us, from highest to humblest, depend upon each other because no one is safe unless everyone is careful. And by ourselves, we are helpless in many ways. We call on others to deliver what we order, to clean, to care, and to accept the risk of dying from treating those who have been infected. Some die because of their vocation. Is that martyrdom?

The wilderness will lead you to your heart where I will speak.

This has been a wilderness experience: deprivation, the unfamiliar, threatening, hostile. It has driven us to search ourselves deeply. What have we found in our hearts during this strange and unanticipated retreat? Have we listened to the comforting whispers of God and Christ spoken in our hearts?

Integrity and justice with tenderness you shall know.

These three values are good candidates for when we seek solid anchor amid storms. Integrity means I am true to myself and others; justice regulates my dealings with others; and, following Jesus, tenderness is what I should feel towards others. Kindness is a related trait that is being mentioned a lot during the pandemic: this is how we will get through together. And if we remember to be kind after it’s over, the ‘new normal’ will truly be new!

You shall sleep secure with peace; faithfulness will be your joy.

We are anxious; we do not know when this will end and what kind of world lies ahead. We long to feel untroubled, to sleep well. When the pandemic is over, we should treasure what we have learned and gained. Let us be faithful to a better vision of interdependent and compassionate humanity and a more careful and responsible relationship with the natural world, our common home.

Long have I waited for your coming home to me….

The longer we must stay apart, the greater our longing. And although we may be staying in our own apartment or house, we are discovering that ‘home’ means more than our familiar abode. I am homeless unless there is a place where I and you and you and you—where I and the persons who are important in my life—can regain our togetherness. This is the coming-home-to-me for which we long.

 ….and living deeply our new life.

Most people have experienced inconveniences, material deprivations and emotional hardships during the pandemic period. And many have had far worse outcomes, from livelihoods lost or in jeopardy to broken families, severe illness and death. After all that, we yearn to live fully, deeply, richly. Even if our lives after the pandemic are similar to what we knew before, we will live them with new eyes, new appreciation for the gift of life and each other.

One way to enrich that possibility is to add your thoughts about this hymn in these times via the comment box below. Thanks!


*Hymn by Gregory Norbet, OSM. ©1972, 1994 The Benedictine Foundation of the State of Vermont, Inc.