For a long time I loved this one. I thought it was a great creative, artsy way to think about our lives.

But when you sit down and really think about it – the initial metaphor, the remaining lyrics – yeah, not so much. Here are Jim Scott’s lyrics – the chorus of a longer song turned into a round (based on a Russian folk song):

May your life be as a song,
Resounding with the dawn
to sing awake the light.
And softly serenade the stars,
Ever dancing circles in the night.

Here are my problems:

First, if my life is a song, it’s reasonably short and likely forgettable. Short is okay, when you think about how short our time is on earth compared to the earth itself or even the universe. But likely forgettable? An annoying ear worm? A repetitive hook? Yeah, no thanks. I’d rather my life be a symphony, or an opera, or something longer that tells a story and contains themes and variations and a sense of impact.

Second, why is my song only in concert with things I have no affect on? Sun’s gonna rise whether I’m here or not, stars did that dancing we see long before we were more than a single-cell paramecium. I’d rather my life resound with the interconnected web of existence as it is now, singing awake our own internal lights, serenading the children we raise, voicing our truths.

Maybe it’s my mood, but I’m growing tired of our desire to be detached and sound wise, when all we are really is detaching from the wisdom we find on the ground.

My third problem is less about the lyrics and more about the music – Jim’s full song is a bossa nova – but if you don’t know that, it becomes complex to sing, and the unusual timing of some lines just doesn’t work if you don’t have that beat in your head. As the image shows below, it’s a syncopated beat that you almost need to feel before this round makes any sense.



Fourth – how did a Russian folk song become a bossa nova anyway?

Bottom line: I used to love this song, and I really don’t anymore.


As I have mentioned before, I love an Alleluia.

And as I have mentioned before, I love music in 5, whether it’s 5/4 or 5/8, as we find here.

And as I have mentioned before, I am a huge fan of composer Tom Benjamin.

So there’s not much left to say, except this is a perfect storm of those three things I love – an Alleluia written in 5/8 by Tom Benjamin.

The words, obviously, are simple:

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Allelu.

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Allelu.

Alleluia, Alleluia,

I suspect some consider this a complex canon with all its syncopation and unusual time signature. But if you pick up the Dave Brubeck groove, it’s as simple as can be. And the blend of the three parts is amazing – Tom’s harmonic structures sing out the praise its lyric voices.

So without further ado, here’s the Brubeck piece you should listen to in order to get in the mood and begin feeling the jazz syncopation of this wonderful Jazz Alleluia:

Image today is the painting by Neil Fujita, used for the cover of Dave Brubeck’s album “Time Out” which first featured “Take Five.”

Happy Christmas Eve – let’s sing an Alleluia!

A number of years ago, Tom Benjamin (whose work graces many pages of both hymnals) put out a collection of 62 Responses, Benedictions, Introits, and Chalice Lighting Songs, which add music to many elements we think of as spoken. Some are short, some are longer. Some are easy for congregations to pick up, some are great for choirs or soloists. Much like the hymnals, in fact.

There are a number of alleluias by Tom in his collection (although my favorite piece of his is a complex choral Alleluia); some, like this one, is written to be a round or canon. Tom offers us many different rhythms from a wide range of musical genres – like this Calypso one, which has nothing to do with the Greek goddess and everything to do with the blending of African and South American sounds throughout the Caribbean islands.

Now I’ll be honest: this one isn’t my favorite of the short congregational alleluias, but is the favorite of many, and I often hear it used. With its syncopated rhythms evocative of the Afro-Caribbean sound, it begs you to sway and dance – especially if you add the suggested drum, claves, and shaker. (In my dreams, there’s enough money to issue every congregation a decent box of hand drums, steel drums, and other percussion instruments. And maybe some kazoos for good measure.)

Alleluia, sing alleluia!
Sing Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Sing alleluia, sing alleluia.

Blessed be, sing blessed be!
Sing blessed be, blessed be, blessed be.
Sing blessed be, sing blessed be.

And I love that the lyrics are expansive – not just alleluia, but blessed be, words that expand our theological praises.

It’s certainly not a song I’d have expected to sing on Christmas Eve, but then when has anything in this practice gone according to the calendar?

There is a moment in the film The Princes Bride, where Westley, who has been mostly dead all day, is trying to figure out how he and his companions Fezzick and Inigo can storm the castle to rescue Westley’s true love, Buttercup. However, having been mostly dead, and having only just taken the miracle pill to revive him, Westley doesn’t quite have control of his body yet. However, the always helpful Fezzick takes note of his progress:

Fezzik: You just shook your head… doesn’t that make you happy?
Westley: My brains, his steel, and your strength against 60 men, and you think a little head jiggle is supposed to make me happy?

Yes, all seems lost, and something so little as a head jiggle seems like a drop in the bucket compared to the strength they need to win the day. And yet, that head jiggle is a sign of something better, stronger, more righteous to come.

Much like singing this song today. Lord knows the divisions we face today seem nearly insurmountable, and a little Quaker song is supposed to make it better?

Building Bridges between our divisions,
I reach out to you, will you reach out to me?
With all of our voices and all of our visions,
friends, we could make such sweet harmony.

And yet, this simple song with its haunting melody, written by Quakers in the face of nuclear proliferation, does make a difference. It does signal a call for something better. And if more and more people sing it, and mean it, maybe the divisions can be bridged. Yes, the song is not much more than a head wiggle…

…but then, so were the songs in Estonia nearly three decades ago. As described by the documentary The Singing Revolution, “between 1987 and 1991, hundreds of thousands of Estonians gathered publicly to sing forbidden patriotic songs and share protest speeches, risking their lives to proclaim their desire for independence. While violence and bloodshed was the unfortunate end result in other occupied nations of the USSR, the revolutionary songs of the Estonians anchored their struggle for freedom, which was ultimately accomplished without the loss of a single life.”

Yes, in the face of fear, anger, lies, cruelty, and the shattering of democracy… a little song, like a head wiggle, can make all the difference.

Hmm.  Welcome to another edition of “I want to like this one.”

I hate when I get to these moments in this practice; I often wonder if I’m being too critical, or too obtuse, or too…something. But this prayerful round, written by UU composer Henry Flurry, feels like a camel – a horse built by committee. All the parts are there, but they don’t quite seem to work together for me.

One issue I have is with how the lyrics land rhythmically on the melody – it feels unnatural to put emphasis on the wrong syllables; this piece asks us to sing “o-PEN my HEART TO all THAT i give” where in natural speech we’d say “O-pen my HEART to ALL that I GIVE.” I think that it’s rare that songwriters can get away with that sort of thing – Alanis Morrisette is about the only one I can think of off the top of my head – and it’s hard to learn a song when it doesn’t sit naturally.

The melody is fine, but with the words it poses – for me – a struggle.

And speaking of the words, I’m not 100% sure I agree with the theology. Now I know that the last time I suggested I didn’t like the theology of a song, I got a raft of angry comments and emails, so I am exceedingly gunshy at the moment. But I’m not sure I like the implication of the second line that I am not already part of the love. It sits wrong on my heart. I’d rather my prayer be one of helping me express the love, or pass on the love, or feel the comfort and healing of the love.

Open my heart to all that I seek;
Let me be part of the Love You give.

Anyway… I look at this song and think it’s so close, I want to like it and use it… but I probably won’t.


Throughout this practice, I’ve happened upon many hymns that were inspired by (or were outright settings of) poetry; that makes sense, as lyric forms seek out one another naturally. But this is the first time I’ve encountered one inspired by paintings.

As noted on the UUA’s Song Information page,

The lyrics of this song come from the French title of a famous oil painting by Paul Gauguin created in Tahiti in 1897 and 1898. It is currently housed at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA. The three groups of women, read from the right to left, represent the three questions posed in the title of the painting. The women with the child represent the beginning of life “Where Do We Come From?” The middle group, represent the daily existence of adulthood “What Are We?” The old woman facing death is asking, “Where Are We Going?”


It’s an amazing painting; the photo I’ve used here doesn’t do it justice, I’m sure. (When am I in Boston next? I have some art to look at…) It is haunting and asks for a meditative encounter, not a quick glance and go. It’s deceptively intricate in its simplicity, and it sticks with you.

Much like this song, which can be sung as a canon, a round, a chant, with about as many permutations as you can imagine. It embodies the questions and mood of the painting in haunting and meditative countermelodies.

 Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

Where do we come from?

Mystery. Mystery. Life is a riddle and a mystery.

Where do we come from? Where are we going?

And these are questions I’m asking myself a lot lately. As I facilitate a couple of UU Wellspring groups, I have the opportunity to both be present to myself and look back at the pre-seminary me who took this for the first time. The questions I had then aren’t the questions I have now, but I still seek answers as I look to where I have come from. And then more generally, where do we come from and what does it mean to dwell in such a time as this, wondering where we are going and how to be present in those riddles.

This is a small song, taking up only half a page.

But it is actually one of our biggest.

This morning I am grateful for Google’s proximate search capabilities.

You see, I typed in the title of today’s hymn, a sweet traditional Jewish round, and it corrected me in that totally not shaming way Google has, by sending me results with ‘chaverim’ instead of the more phonetic ‘havayreem’.

It also presented me with a variety of YouTube videos of the song so that I could sing it in a round with other voices.

Shalom, havayreem!
Shalom, havayreem!
Shalom, shalom!
L’hitraot, l’hitraot,
shalom, shalom.

Finally, Google helped me with translations. At its basic, the lyrics translate as “Peace friend,
’till we meet again!” However, there is a version sung by children that extends the language into this English translation:

Goodbye, my friends!
Be safe, my friends!
Have peace, have peace!

‘Til we meet again,
‘Til we meet again,
Have peace, have peace.

What a delightful benediction or postlude this is. So warm and loving. What a blessing.

Thanks, Google.

In my last year of seminary, I and five of my most creative friends co-created and produced a Broadway revue that told the story of the book of Exodus.

We began our work with Biblical preparation led by Old Testament scholar David M. Carr: not just reading and exegeting the text but also examining the history of interpretation of the text. We learned how passages from Exodus were used to forward an idea, connect a current struggle to an old one, and in the case of the US Civil War, used by both sides to suggest God was on their side. Reading about interpretation helped us in our own, as we found ourselves wanting to explore the text’s relationship with violence, oppression, and women. As a result, we created a show that humanized the Egyptians, leaned into the stories of Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter, and reacted with compassion at the moments of violence.

This came to mind this morning as I explored this song online, and found almost nothing about the song itself but plenty about the verses from which it is formed.

And ev’ry one ‘neath a vine and fig tree
shall live in peace and unafraid. (Repeat)

And into plowshares turn their swords;
nations shall learn war no more. (Repeat)

The texts, from prophets Micah and Isaiah, put together like this are very anti-war. Yet what I have discovered  at the site Teaching American History is that the first verse especially (Micah 4:4) was such a favorite of George Washington that it not only became – in his use – a representation of what the colonies should experience after the Revolution, but also a call to arms, a ‘let’s get this thing over with so we can go back to our farms.’ It was quoted to give depth to the more defiant ‘don’t tread on me’ – a feeling of hope, of being free not just to go back to one’s land but to be free from an oppressive government. The passage was not so much an ant-war sentiment as a ‘let’s fight, let’s win, and then let’s go home’ sentiment. And it was such a popular image, it appeared in art and even embroidered samples (such as our image today).

Adding on the Isaiah text for this song from the Jewish tradition does distill the let’s fight sentiment, although it acknowledges war in the present even as we hope for no war in the future.


I don’t know that I thought much about this one before today, and while I find it full of anti-war sentiment, it also feels very full of sadness, as the peace being longed for is hard-won and may never come. It doesn’t rally me but rather feels like a song of lament. Maybe this is me in my present context – realizing how long we have been at war, realizing that in American history, we’ve been at war or in conflict nearly the entire time, realizing how much violence we have normalized within and beyond our borders. For us, to sit under the vine and fig tree unafraid is a pipe dream akin to Psalm 137 – living  in terrible circumstances, remembering not with hope but with tears.

Sorry to bring you all down today – this is where my thoughts are as we continue to fight the wars of oppression at home without much recognition of how worn and inured to the violence we have become. My heart is so heavy with the weight of sorrow I can’t remember any other way. And while I can sing this song, I can’t imagine it ever coming to pass.

This song is my lament today.

The embroidered image, Chairback-Vine and Fig Tree, is from the Deerfield Society of Blue and White Needlework.

I must begin with a shout out to my friends.

Y’all are something … yesterday I confess that the lyrics don’t click for me, and you all make an effort to help me get it. You explain on Facebook, and you even email the composer herself to get her take on it (and to introduce me to her). It’s so sweet, y’all. Once I secure permission, I’ll update yesterday’s blog with Mary’s words, but know right now that while the metaphor still doesn’t move me, I understand where it comes from and what it means to others a bit more.

And it’s got me thinking a lot about music and metaphor. I mean, music is the ultimate metaphor for our spirits; it’s why we turn to music to set a mood or express ourselves. And a gorgeous lyric can add to that mood or expression. For some reason, Cris Williamson’s lyric “filling up and spilling over / it’s an endless waterfall” as a metaphor for the ups and downs of life, or emma’s revolution’s lyric “we’re all swimming to the other side” as a metaphor for our collective journeys are coming to mind as song metaphors that I find meaningful and delightful (and surely has nothing to do with the deluge of rain we experienced overnight, right?).

And that metaphor doesn’t work for everyone, as beautiful as those lyrics are, as beautiful as those songs are. If we all got everything, if we all drew meaning from everything, then nothing would be special. And if this spiritual practice has taught me anything, it’s that we need many different songs with many different melodies, metaphors, and moods – especially in our congregations. We don’t know who will be ministered to by the song we despise, or who will need the comfort offered in a song we find insipid, or will feel their spirits lift by lyrics we don’t quite get.

So when I said yesterday I’m okay with not understanding yesterday’s lyrics, I meant that not just as resignation or defeat but as being really okay, knowing a gorgeous melody carries with it, for some, a deeply moving metaphor.

Unlike today, where there is really no metaphor to distill.

Morning has come. Night is away.
Rise with the sun and welcome the day.

It’s a great little morning round, one I’ve known for a long time but don’t know how. Sung well, it rings out like bells. Sung annoyingly, it’s the song that makes you want to pull the covers over your head.

But I like this anonymously offered round and would consider using it (and others) as a call to worship as well as a prelude. And then you should sing Jason Shelton’s hymn Morning Has Come. And then maybe Morning Has Broken and Morning Hangs a Signal…

Okay, maybe enough with the morning.

But y’all are really sweet. Thanks.


Lovely Update Below!

Things I don’t know:

I don’t know composer and colleague Mary Grigolia, although I feel like I should.

I don’t know when I learned this, but it was sometime between the Louisville General Assembly (summer 2013) and the Florida Chapter UUMA retreat (spring 2015).

I don’t know why I never heard it or sang it before then, because everyone else seems to have this in their bones.

I don’t really know what it means.

I know this rose will open.
I know my fear will burn away.
I know my soul will unfurl its wings.
I know this rose will open.

Honestly. Maybe it’s the gloom of a stormy autumn morning, or the restless sleep, or the metaphorical neurons taking a holiday, but I’m really not sure what this is about. There’s an unspoken ‘when x happens’ at the end of each lines and I am unclear what the next part of that sentence is.

It’s a gorgeous piece, made more gorgeous by gentle improvisation that comes from sitting around a circle with Jason Shelton and Amy Carol Webb on a quiet evening.

But I’m finding it lyrically baffling.

And I think that’s okay.

October 31: Jed Levine introduced me to Mary Grigolia shortly after reading this post and in our exchanges she lovingly shared the origin of this song with me:

I wrote this song when I was in seminary, taking a class on death and dying. Our assignment was to write our eulogy, which of course means the good words we’d like to remain of our lives. I thought and thought of what to say, what not to say. And decided that as a songwriter, I needed to say it in music.

After I decided “I” would write a song for my project/paper, I set the perfect ambiance: prepared a tray with journal and pen, tea and healthy snacks, went outside into the perfect afternoon, to sit under they Meyer lemon tree in my back yard, ready for and courting inspiration. I spent several hours journaling and grateful for the beauty of the afternoon. And no music came. None. Not a note. And I realized the hubris of the ego saying it would write the song. Scooping up everything, accepting the folly of my presumption, as I was balancing the tray, coming through the door (yes, a literally liminal experience), I realized I was singing something under my breath. And it was the whole round. Complete.

What I take from the experience is the great responsiveness of the Universe/Spirit/Deep and Creative Self, when we allow ourselves to be present, to listen, to sing along, but not to assume we can control its scope or view.

I Know This Rose is the answer to my invitation (to the deep Self). The way I hear/feel it, I am the rose; opening is in my nature. Even when it comes time to let go of this body practice, I know this rose will open.

And although I may feel afraid of the changes, afraid of the unknown I can’t control, afraid of allowing the ego to follow the calling of something deeper, I know those fears will burn away (in the fire of transformation, this very physical practice of loving and living and letting go).

And as my fear burns away, I know, I trust that the wings of my heart, my soul, will unfurl their (my) wings.
Yes, I know this rose will open. I am the rose. We are all the rose. Opening.

May we all trust in the opening!