I’m sorry to say I didn’t know this video from May existed until today, but in this amazing piece, First Portland’s music director, DeReau Farrar offers powerful testimony about what it means to sing spirituals in white spaces.

There is no embed code, so please click on this link to watch this video.

We have so many of these songs in our hymnals, and I think this should be required viewing before choosing any of them. In fact, I might link to the video on each post for these songs, just in case you forget.

Because this matters. As uncomfortable as his words may make us, this matters.



I just wrote my 51st entry in this crazy Hymn by Hymn thing, and there are actually people reading it. Whodathunkit?

I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the practice itself, having gotten into it and into the habit. This kind of reflection – processing the process – is common in UU Wellspring Spiritual Deepening – we are encouraged to take up a spiritual practice during the class, and we take time now and then to reflect on how that’s going. Is it working? What are we discovering? Do we need to make changes? It’s a worthwhile tool, not only because it helps us form and format our practice, but it also helps draw our attention to it so that it doesn’t become mindless habit.

And so, this spiritual practice. Because this is how it began, after all. I felt like I wasn’t being attentive to myself, and I knew that taking up a time-limited but long-play practice has served me well in the past. In my high pagan days, I was taught to spend a year and a day studying a path, a divination tool, a deity, or some such; and I had wonderful years studying the runes, Artemis, Sophia, and the chakras. As I shifted from pagan to agnostic to theist, my year and a day practices changed; I did a year of CS Lewis (and have dents in the spines of his books to prove it), and in my 50th year on earth, did my Year of Jubilee, focusing on the renewal of myself, letting go of emotional debts, etc.

But now it’s been a couple of years and some trauma later, and it felt like time to fill the void. I didn’t know what to do, so I put out a call on Facebook, and my colleague Heather Petit suggested singing a hymn a day. I added the blogging about it part, because I knew that, like my Year of Jubilee, public posts would keep me accountable. And so, on my birthday (when I have started all of these practices), I began with May Nothing Evil Cross This Door.

It’s been intriguing so far, and I’ve already discovered some things:

  • there are so many more hymns that I don’t know than I realized
  • the hymnal compilers made some odd language choices here and there and I am more of a quibbler than I expected
  • every time I think a hymn is unsingable, I hear Jason Shelton saying every hymn is singable with the right music leadership
  • there are some hymns that are incredibly controversial and there’s no middle ground, at least according to the long thread of Facebook comments from my colleagues
  • doing these in order means there have been and will be some jarring juxtapositions between hymn and real life – see the swath of cheery morning songs the days after the election
  • singing hymns that don’t fit the day makes my imagination work more, and that’s a good thing
  • I want to lead more vespers services
  • every time I think no one is reading, someone┬ácomments and makes my day – and at least once, the commenter ministered to me
  • I have yet to drag myself to the practice – in fact, I look forward to it, even in the darkest of days

And so, it continues. I’ll be heading into spring and summer songs soon, immersed fully into nature by Christmas. That, to me, is a real gift – as someone who doesn’t like the overload of Christmas music on tv, radios, shops, played by well-meaning friends, family, and congregants, it’ll be an oasis. (I will hit the winter holiday tunes in late spring.)

Thanks, all, for reading. Thanks for being a lovely part of my spiritual practice, a part that reminds me that what we do for ourselves can also help others.

Why this, why now?

I realized that I feel most connected to myself when I take up a special project as a spiritual practice – something with a particular scope and time limit. I’ve previously spent a year studying a particular pantheon, or spiritual path, or in the case of my 50th year, the project that was My Year of Jubilee.

Why Hymns?

I put out a call for ideas on Facebook, and my colleague Heather Petit suggested singing a hymn a day. It seemed perfect – hymns are almost second nature, but to walk through them all – familiar and unfamiliar – with intention? That sounds amazing.

How long will this take?

Originally, I was seeking something I could do for a year, but I realized that if I am to do the project justice, I need to sing every hymn in both hymnals, even the one-verse offerings for Old Hundredth.

Will it get weird?

Absolutely. I’ll be singing Christmas carols in late spring. Sometimes we sing the same lyrics to two different tunes (Light of Ages and of Nations, Amazing Grace).

What will I do each day?

First I will sing the hymn – if I know it, it’ll be easy. I will also turn to online resources and musician friends to help with those I don’t. Then… I’ll write.

What will I cover in each day’s post?

First will be the lyrics – then, who knows? I plan to reflect on what strikes me – experience of singing, theological reflections, personal memories, and who knows what else – this is perhaps the beauty of a spiritual practice with several boundaries (frequency, order, process) – a great amount of freedom within the structure.

What do I hope for you, the reader?

On one level, it will hopefully become a resource. But on another, who knows. It might be that I bore everyone, including myself. But it will be an adventure of some sort.

Thanks for coming on the adventure with me.