If you are a fan of a film or tv show with highly quotable lines, you may find yourself giving the next line almost out of habit:
“You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”
“To make a long story short…”
“My father hung me from a hook once..”
“Surely you don’t mean it.”
“I do. And stop calling me Shirley.”
“Darmok and Jilad at Tanagra.”
“Darmok and Jilad on the ocean.”
And so on.
We like things that repeat. It helps firm them up in our brains. The call and response connects us. It’s also a bit of a shibboleth, a password of sorts that lets us know we’re on the same page.
We see it all the time in Protestant liturgy:
May the Lord be with you.
And also with you.
The Word of God.
Thanks be to God.
Now as Unitarian Universalists, we don’t have much of this in most of our congregations. Our liturgies are much more freeform (despite many of them still modeling what Glen Thomas Rideout calls “Puritan Standard”). Yet for many of us, there are words or phrases that lead us almost instinctively to respond, perhaps most frequently (in my experience),
Please say with me the words for extinguishing our chalice.
We extinguish this flame, but not the light of truth…
For me and many of us, there’s another trigger of ritual response:
And now the children may go to their classes.
If you’re in one of the hundreds of congregations that uses today’s hymn as a children’s recessional, what comes next are those first four notes – G, C, D, G – repeated as an intro to our lyrics:
Go now in peace. Go now in peace.
May the love of God surround you
everywhere, everywhere you may go.
You probably already started singing before I got to it, didn’t you?
Now I know many congregations use other songs as their recessional; Bloomington, IN, uses a verse of a different hymn each month. Others have pieces written for them. But for those congregations, the song is still part of a habitual call and response. We say we don’t like ritual, but we crave it. And this song, by Methodist composer Natalie Sleeth, is a major piece of our ritual.
I should say a thing you likely already know: the lyrics are “may the love of God” because that’s how Sleeth wrote it and required it be printed in order to give us permission. I’m sure members of the Hymnal Commission can tell more about the story, but the bottom line is that we’ve not been given permission by a living artist to change her lyrics to anything, including the popular “spirit of love.”
Go now in peace.
I don’t know what was going on at Westside UU in Seattle that day, but I love the pic of the kids under a bridge made by adults.