Sacred Head Now Wounded

Bernard of Clairvaux,. 1091-1153 trans, and verse k added by James Waddell Alexander, 1804-59

What language shall I borrow To thank thee, dearest Friend, For this thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?

Before I knew her, Maggie worked in the theater: teaching, acting, directing, producing. But somewhere on the West Coast, the talent fogged in. Giving a dramatic reading in front of a college class, she stopped cold, overwhelmed with unexplainable panic.

That attack spawned others until fear pervaded her life. As for her career, when I met Maggie, she worked as a secretarial temp. She hadn't performed for four years, grounded by the terror of feeling out of control. As for her personal life, she drove little—-went to great lengths to avoid bridges or inter-states. And escalators—they might as well have been mountain cliffs.

The fear held on for nearly ten years before it lost its grip. Maggie made a few bold ventures up and down a shopping-mall escalator, driving over a bridge. She celebrated a few small victories. And then God broke through with the words of a song often sung ..... "O Sacred Head Now Wounded." Most of the words are attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, a medieval saint. But the fourth verse is comparatively new, written in 1830 by James Waddell Alexander, a Presbyterian pastor in Trenton, New Jersey. For Maggie, that "addition," sung by her congregation .... was the clincher—and the clench-releaser.


"What language shall I borrow?" The line spoke to the magnitude of Maggie's need, which she saw as being beyond description in her own language. She found it impossible to articulate the paralysis brought on by a panic attack.

The line also helped her lay claim to the knowledge that God is beyond words. "His love and grace is indescribable— and greater than my confusion," she says. More than that, it helped her reach a new gratitude for the ability to make small steps toward recovery.


Several weeks ago I went to a movie with Maggie-—-and she was the one assuring me that I was not likely to trip down the escalator and break my skull. And she's back teaching college students the secrets of public speaking.

"But," she admits, "I still can't sing that verse without choking up."

Sometimes, still, the fear does creep in. When that happens the hymn's last phrases kick in and Maggie keeps moving— beyond the panic to the peace:

Oh, make me thine forever! And should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never, Outlive my love for thee.



Lord, your Word assures us that your Spirit will help us in our weakness. When I do not know how to pray, intercede for me with thai language that is beyond human utterance. Accept the groanings of my\ heart--its depravity and its gratitude for your grace.


From the book "Spiritual Moments with the Great Hymns" by Evelyn Bence.

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