O that you would tear open the heavens and come down. (Isaiah 64:1)
At the back of most Christian hymnals, you can find an index that alphabetically lists the first lines of every song in the book. Find the letter “O,” and you will discover a long list of hymns for which ‘Oh,’ or more simply ‘O,’ is the first word.
I counted 64 songs in our primary Lutheran hymnal that start with ‘oh,’ the most common first word among all the hymns in the book.
But ‘oh’ is barely a word at all. It’s what comes out our mouths when we don’t know what to say, when the emotion of the moment simply forces its way from our throat.
Those 64 hymns, for example, are awash in a boat load of irrepressible emotions: ‘Oh’ is a sigh of longing and a cry for help. It expresses awe and wonder for which no words are possible. It proclaims joy and praise at the utter goodness of being alive and knowing love. It is thanks to the Great Heart who makes it all possible.
Oh is a plea for mercy and the joy of relief. It is startled disbelief at finally finding and knowing the truth your heart most needs. And it is the soul’s highest praise upon feeling the Spirit of that Great Heart within your own.
Oh says very little while saying all that is possible to say. And maybe it is our best prayer right now.
O come, o come Emmanuel. We long for moments when only one word will do.
Pr. David L. Miller