My son loved to sing and could carry a tune even before he was able to speak. Shortly after he had begun to talk, at around age three, he would sing with great gusto his favorite Christmas carol:
Hark the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn king
Peace on earth and mercy wild
God and sinners reconciled.
I smiled at the substitution of “wild” for “mild,” recalling that when I was a few years older than my son was then I’d been puzzled by pictures of the Holy Family in Nativity scenes. My confusion stemmed from some words in the Christmas carol “Silent Night.” There in the pictures were Mary, the Baby, and Joseph—but where was the other one, “Round John Virgin?”
As I thought about “mercy wild” perhaps this was not just a child’s mishearing. Maybe my son was actually onto something with his rewording. For God’s mercy is not only inexhaustible, it’s also inexplicable. Really wild. And that’s a very good thing.
I recalled how a few years earlier three priest friends of mine and I had an after dinner custom of singing together some slightly corny 19th C. hymns in an irreverent tone of whimsy and parody. (We called ourselves “The Victorian Hymn Society.”) F. W. Faber’s hymn that begins “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea” was sung by us in the following way:
There’s a wildness in God’s mercy
Like the wildness of the sea.
Mercy wild. Definitely something there for us.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington