So…. bear with me on this: today’s hymn is the Jan to yesterday’s Marcia.

Everyone loves Wake Now My Senses. it’s a popular ordination hymn. It makes some of us cry. It is easy to sing and suits so many sermons.

And there, on the bottom of the right hand page, tucked away so as you hardly notice, is Make Channels for the Streams of Love. It’s not the favorite, it’s not well known, it’s overshadowed and often ignored. I can just hear this hymn whining to the Hymnal Commission about being stuck on that page and not having its own so it can shine. Just as second-born Jan Brady was always in her older sister Marcia’s shadow on The Brady Bunch, so too does this hymn sometimes sit in the shadows of a more popular hymn.

But folks, it deserves to shine. Set to the Land of Rest tune (which we have sung twice already in Heap High the Farmer’s Wintry Hoard and When We Wend Homeward), this text by Irish author Richard Trench contains a loving, lovely, and important message.

Make channels for the streams of love where they may broadly run;
and love has overflowing streams to fill them every one.

But if at any time we cease such channels to provide,
the very founts of love for us will soon be parched and dried.

For we must share, if we would keep this gift all else above;
we cease to give, we cease to have — such is the law of love.

Or, as Jimmy Durante (and many others) sang,

You’ve got to give a little, take a little,
And let your poor heart break a little.
That’s the story of, that’s the glory of love.

I hope you sing this more. I hope I sing this more. Because it’s so easy to stay angry and get angrier, to stay isolated and get more isolated, and then become parched and dried. We have to always love more, love more, love more.

It seems that every month or so there is a day I let my faithful –  and even not so faithful – readers down. Today is one of them. I’ll chalk it up to utter exhaustion after an amazing, if sleep-deprived, week at SUUSI, and a beautiful but long drive home from the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina to the foothills of the Adirondacks. And I’m not a kid anymore. This pace, while awesome in the moment, does take its toll. I slept in late, and even after two cups of coffee, I just can’t handle a new tune in four flats on my little keyboard app.

I’m sorry to say this tune, by composer Dede Duson and commissioned for this hymnal, seems like it is beautiful; but I just can’t get a handle on it. And as it turns out, the last time I encountered one of Duson’s tunes, I was also letting you all down, finding the tune too hard to manage through less-than-perfect conditions. Perhaps I need to find an accompanist I can call on mornings such as this to play tunes for me.

Anyway. Having not sung the tune – thus letting you and my practice down – I turn to the lyrics, by our old friend John Andrew Storey.

The star of truth but dimly shines behind the veiling clouds of night,
but ev’ry searching eye divines some partial glimmer of its light.

The certainty for which we crave no mortal ones can ever know;
uncharted waters we must brave, and face whatever winds may blow.

Though for safe harbor we may long, we must not let our courage fail,
and, though the winds of doubt blow strong, upon the trackless ocean sail.

From honest doubt we shall not flee, nor fetter the inquiring mind,
for where the hearts of all are free, a truer faith we there shall find.

I love this lyric. Every single line of it. The idea that we not only are able to have our answers questioned but that we can engage the search together, and that our hearts will open wide in the search? Sign me up.

I wish I was familiar with the tune and could teach it – I could have used this hymn several times in the last year. I mean, I could have us sing it to a different tune, like Winchester New (also used for As Tranquil Streams), but I would really like to use the new tune written for us.

So I ask: anyone willing to sign up to be on the other end of a Dial-A-Pianist Hotline?

Anyone know the artist of this image of safe harbor? Google is also failing me today.

Here at SUUSI, we have a yearly theme; this year’s is “Blessed Is the Path,” and the resulting worship services have explored the many ways we are on our path, what we may encounter on the path, and what it means to say ‘yes’ to the path.

Of course, my mind has spent a little energy thinking about the path I’m heading down; a path that’s mine and mine alone. Friend and colleague Karen Armina (formerly Quinlan) reminded us of these words from Joseph Campbell:

If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.

Our hymn today is about the paths we make. It’s not about looking back at our accomplishments (for which we do also give praise) but about looking forward to the next step – the untilled field, the open sea, the roads ahead.

Our praise we give for harvests earned,
the fruits of labor garnered in;
but praise we more the soil unturned
from which the yield is yet to win.

Our praise we give for harbor’s lee,
for moorings safe in waters still;
but more the leagues of open sea,
where favoring gales our canvas fill.

Our praise we give for journey’s end,
the inn, all warmth and light and cheer;
but more for length’ning roads that wend
through dust and heat and hilltops clear.

Soren Kierkegaard is famously quoted as saying “Life is lived forward but understood backward.” The path ahead – unturned, unsailed, untraveled – makes sense only because we look back and know that what we do creates a life well lived.

Now I know I’m waxing poetic this morning and not saying much about the hymn itself. So let me pause to say the tune is a gorgeous piece by Percy Carter Buck, and the lyrics are part of a longer piece written by Unitarian minister John Coleman Adams.

It is a lush and lovely hymn, one I would definitely use at an ingathering or a sending off. Or maybe another time of the year – because our journey never ends until we do, and the time we are on the path is a lot longer than the preparation or reflection.

As I and my colleagues across denominations are wont to say, that’ll preach.

Before the hymn, I want to address a comment: On the Facebook comments for yesterday’s post, a colleague noted with  surprise that I actually liked one, as though I hate our hymns and this is a chore.

I’m surprised that this came up, and maybe that colleague is the only one who thinks that, but it is absolutely worth addressing in case that colleague is the only one who felt brave enough to say it.

Do I hate our hymns? Nothing could be further from the truth.

Yes, it is true there are hymns I am not fond of here, and occasionally one I out and out hate and would rip out of the book and sear from our memories if only I had that kind of power (and didn’t like the hymn on the next page). But there are many more I like, and yes, quite a few I adore.

And still, the ones I like and love may contain some problems, or quirks, or lead me to wonder about how others might perceive it. And yes, liking or loving or hating a song largely depends on the time of year, the news, external circumstances, or even just a mood. I am sure if I go back now to the morning songs I sang the week after the election, I might have different things to say. And if I knew how much people love Bring Many Names, I might not have been so harsh…no, wait, I really still dislike that one…

My point is this: if you only read this blog when I am critical, then you might think I hate our songs and this practice. But if you actually read the blog on a regular basis, then you know that I have a deep love for this practice,  our songs, and even the particular ones I hate I still have an affection for, because they are part of our expansive living tradition. I wouldn’t keep doing this practice if it didn’t do something for me, and frankly for many of my readers.

On the whole, I love our music. I love this critical evaluation from which incredible richness emerges – both my own and from those readers who comment here and on Facebook (and even a few times on Twitter). I definitely love this practice, as it brings focus – and music – to my days.  And I love the idea that something bigger may emerge from it.

Now, on to the hymns….

Where has this hymn been all my life?

Wow. It’s gorgeous. It is a loving, comforting song in a gentle, minor key. It’s pretty easy to pick up, singing wise, And I can imagine it being used in any number of situations, especially when some contemplation or gentleness or simply rest after a lot of busy-ness is called for (which is every Sabbath, really).

The lyrics alone, from Rabbi Gustav Gottheil, a leader in the Reform Judaism movement in the late 19th century, are amazing – a wonderful prayer to offer in the morning or evening (as noted by the optional ‘rising’).  But for me, the tune, by Abraham Binder, is what gives the lyrics a fullness and completeness.

Come, O Sabbath day and bring peace and healing on thy wing:
and to every weary one let a word of blessing come:
thou shalt rest. Thou shalt rest.

Welcome Sabbath! Let depart ev’ry care of troubled heart.
Now the daily task is done, let a word of comfort come:
Thou thalt rest. Thou shalt rest.

Work and sorrow cast away! Sabbath is for prayer and play.
With the setting* of the sun, let a cheering message come:
thou shalt rest. Thou shalt rest.

*or “rising”

If you use this already, huzzah! If you haven’t, please try it – I will be, for sure.

Shelley Jackson Denham is a denominational treasure.

This hymn was commissioned by the hymnal commission, and wow, did she deliver. I know some might avoid this one because it’s an unfamiliar tune, but trust me when I say that (a) it’s not that difficult – although you definitely don’t want to just spring it on a congregation and (b) the tune is absolutely perfect for Denham’s lyrics.

And I wonder if one of the reasons it is perfect is that the open fourths and rhythmic patterns make room for the meaning. I know in earlier posts I’ve complained that unfamiliar tunes mean folks might miss the lyrics in favor of trying to pick out the notes. And that might happen here too, initially. But there is a particularly beautiful marriage of word and melody here that gives an expansive feel to what Denham names as faith.

Faith is a forest in which doubts play and hide;
insight can hear the still small voice deep inside.
Web of Life, may this thread I weave
strengthen commitment to all I believe.
Vision be my guide as I seek my way,
lead me into this tender day;
Speak through me in all I do and say.

Seeds of both meek and strong are scattered in air;
dignity shines undimmed by bigotry’s glare.
Web of Life, may this thread I weave
help me bear witness to all I believe.
Justice be my guide as I seek my way,
lead me into this tender day;
speak through me in all I do and say.

Fortune and famine ride the swift winds of chance;
sorrow and pleasure seem united in dance.
Web of Life, may this thread I weave
mingle compassion with all I believe.
Mercy be my guide as I seek my way,
lead me into this tender day;
speak through me in all I do and say.

Really, this is a beauty.

One more note: that the penultimate phrase is “lead me into this tender day” speaks volumes. It is poignant and elegant, especially in these long tender days.

I was expecting this to be a difficult song to learn – enough times, that “Irregular” at the bottom of the page signals complex rhythms and intervals.

Yet once I got into it, and I felt the 9/8 rhythm (which is really a glorious 3/4), the song suddenly felt familiar, in a way that makes me wonder if I’ve heard it or sung it before. I can’t identify the time or place, yet it feels familiar in my bones.

Perhaps this is the beauty of folk tunes – this one from the Philippines. Our hymnal says it is a Visayan, or indigenous Filipino folk tune. I believe that’s true, but I don’t want to discount that this tune might have some Western European influence, given the Spanish conquest in 1521, which didn’t end until the Spanish-American  War in 1898 (when the US took over until the end of World War II).

At any rate, what I know is that the tune has a familiar feel, and given that it was easy to sing (easier than expected), I reveled in the lyrics while I was singing – as we know, that rarely happens on the first go of a song.

I mean, look at these words, based on a text from Bishop Toribio Quimada, who founded the Universalist (now Unitarian Universalist) Church of the Philippines:

O, the beauty in a life that illumines honor anew,
that models wise and gracious ways to every seeker;
that every day shall serve in joy and do the right.
O, praise the life whose beauty shows a justice true.

Let not service of the good be confined to great saints alone,
but every hour be part of all our daily living.
Set not the hope of wisdom’s grace beyond our ken;
how wide the path, how close the goal, which love has shown.

O, the beauty of a life that illumines care of the soul,
that knows a love that is for self as well as others,
that every day embodies praise for every good,
this is the faith to which we turn, our God and goal.

How glorious, this call to justice. How elegant, this call to beloved community. How joyful, this call to love and faith and good.

We need this today – to turn to our Faith and allow it to illumine our souls so that we might do the work we are called to.

The photo is of the UU Church of the Philippines in Doldol, in the Negros Islands region.

1:52pm: Cool update at the end of this post.

One of my regular readers, Kaye, regularly points out in comments the titles that don’t make sense because they aren’t titles at all but rather first lines. I know from experience that if the first line doesn’t grab me, I don’t look further, and sometimes I wonder why we’d have a song about that.

And thus, sometimes this practice surprises me with a hymn I have regularly flipped past. Like today’s – a setting of a poem by Rachel Bates (more on that in a minute).  It’s set to one of my favorite contemplative tunes, Danby, by the master Ralph Vaughn Williams – perhaps most familiarly known to us as the Advent hymn Let Christmas Come (which we’ll get to in May. Yes, May.).

The poetry is beautiful; its imagery is reminiscent of those too-infrequent moments of real quiet without the ambient noise of 21st century motors and currents. Its pattern brings to mind the Howard Thurman piece “When the song of the angels is stilled…” And the denouement is a beautiful meditative idea – after all of the noise and bright banging flashes and shouts and screams of war…  “how sweet the darkness there.”

When windows that are black and cold are lit anew with fires of gold;
when dusk in quiet shall descend and darkness come once more a friend;

When wings pursue their proper flight and bring not terror but delight;
when clouds are innocent again and hide no storms of deadly rain;

And when the sky is swept of wars and keeps but gentle moon and stars,
that peaceful sky, harmless air, how sweet, how sweet, the darkness there.

Before we go… I promised a bit on Rachel Bates. Here’s what I know: Rachel Bates was an English woman from the Wirral (a peninsula between Liverpool and Wales) who wrote at least one poem during the First World War.

Yep, that’s all I know. I found her in a list of female war poets here. My google searches have come up with nothing useful – there are plenty of modern Rachel Bateses to fill up my search results, and no matter what details I put in, I can’t get anything other than this site.

And that to me is a real shame. Perhaps this was the only good poem Bates ever wrote. Perhaps it was the only poem period. Or perhaps she had a longer life as a poet but was obscured or cut short or… who knows. It makes me sad, and I hope her life wasn’t. I hope she found love, fulfillment, space to express her heart’s desire and her creative passion.

For all the Rachel Bateses of the world, and for those who bring them to our attention, if only for a moment, thank you.


UPDATE! After I posted, I decided to poke around the female war poets website and discovered that for £2 ($2.56) I could buy a PDF of the first compendium of poetry. It arrived about a half hour ago, and author Lucy London has this to say:

Rachel Bates was born in 1897 to parents Joseph Ambrose Bates and Edith Annie Grimshaw. The family lived in lived in Great Crosby, Waterloo, Merseyside, where she worked as a secretary at The Liverpool Daily Post and Echo in their editorial department.

In 1922 she produced her first volume of poetry entitled  “Danae And Other Poems” which was published by Erskine MacDonald Ltd, London WC1.

During the Second World War, Rachel moved to Sawrey in the Lake District where she continued to write poetry.

In 1947 she produced a collection of poems about her lakeland surroundings called “Songs From A Lake” which was published by Hutchinson.

She died in 1966 and is buried at St Michael & All Angels cemetery in Hawkshead.

Hurrah! She was a published poet! She got some recognition! And it sound as if she lived a full life in Northwest England. Now to find her published collections…

The photograph is of a British soldier and his family, circa 1917. Is the woman Rachel Bates? Probably not, but who knows…

Here’s another hymn I might have noticed if the title wasn’t just the first few words – and one I now plan to use.

One of my regular readers, Kaye, has remarked more than once that using the first line rather than the actual (or at least more meaningful) title often leads us to ignore good hymns because the first few words don’t capture what the hymn is really about. I agree.

What I also didn’t know is that if you’re theologically minded, this is kind of a shit-stirrer of a hymn. Remember when we sang all those nature songs and talked about nature is the gateway for the Transcendentalists to find truth and meaning? Well, Hosea Ballou II, grandnephew of the Universalist theologian he was named for, shoots an arrow into that perspective, saying ‘yeah, as cool as nature is, it’s nothing compared to compassion and service to others. Take that, tree huggers.’ Okay, maybe he didn’t exactly say that – but close. He definitely brings us back to humanity in a gorgeous counterpoint to the ‘nature’s everything and we are nothing’ sentiment that sometimes shows up (I’m lookin’ at you, Whittier).

Bright those jewels of the skies which in sable darkness glow.
Brighter in compassion’s eyes are the silent tears which flow.

Sweet the fragrance from the fields where abundant spices grow.
Sweeter far is that which yields comfort to the sick and low.

Grateful are those gentle dews on the greening grass which fall.
Far more grateful what renews comforts to the poor who call.

What I like about this is it isn’t ‘screw the earth, people are all that matter’ – it’s ‘wow, this planet is so amazing, and how more amazing still is compassion? yeah!’ … all set to a medieval French melody that’s lovely and sweet to sing.

I’m a fan. And I had no idea.

Welcome to another edition of Hymns I Have Never Sung and Plan To Use Now.

We have now entered the next section of our hymnal; for those keeping track, we’ve finished the First Source songs and are now entering the Second Source, Words and Deeds of Prophetic People. (I hear you saying “people? Isn’t it women and men?” Oh yes, that is how the sources read now; but there is a motion to change the source as written in the bylaws to read “prophetic people” in order to be more inclusive. And I should note, this campaign was started by my colleague Jami Yandle and others at our Toledo, Ohio, congregation.)

Anyway, back to the hymn. We now are talking exemplars and pioneers – and what better exemplars to start with than the Christ and the Buddha?  These elegant lyrics, by English Unitarian minister John Andrew Storey, are intriguingly set to a tune by I-to Loh, a professor of liturgy in the Philippines – and what I love is that even though there are other Western tunes this could easily be set to, the choice of this Eastern tune removes a sense of Western domination. It is subtle to be sure, but it is a brilliant choice that preferences a culture other than our own and still speaks to us.

We the heirs of many ages, with the wise to guide our ways,
honor all earth’s seers and sages, build our temples for their praise.

But the good we claim to cherish, all that Christ and Buddha taught,
unrepentant hearts let perish, spurning truth most dearly bought.

Centuries of moral teaching, words of wisdom, ancient lore,
all the prophet souls’ beseeching leaves us heedless as before.

Late in time, may we, forsaking all our cruelty and scorn,
see a new tomorrow breaking and a kinder world be born.

And lest you think the Asian tune means it’s hard to sing, it’s most assuredly not. It has a couple of intervals that are, to my Western-trained ears, a little unusual, but they would be easily learned by anyone, I think.

So why have I never sung it? I suspect in some cases, for other minsters it wasn’t the right message, or it seemed too foreign to introduce to ‘a congregation that doesn’t sing’ (which is code for “I don’t have anybody who can – or I don’t want to take the time – to teach them.”)

But here’s another reason it probably gets bypassed, and certainly got bypassed by me: it faces Abide With Me, and a title like We the Heirs of Many Ages makes a connection to memorials and funerals – if you don’t look, it seems like another of the same ilk, and for the most part (although colleague Christian Schmidt is about to prove me wrong), nobody uses Abide With Me except at memorials and funerals, so why would we give another funeral song a glance? And of course, we’d be wrong.

The worst part is that there have been times that this would have been the perfect hymn, and I blew those chances. But I’ll remember it now, as I revel in the openness and poetry of word and music.

I’m not sure if this should be a new rule, but it should be something: This title is highly misleading, and we need to do something about that beyond the couple dozen of you who read this blog.

“Has Summer Come Now, Dawning” sounds for all the world like a SUMMER song, doesn’t it? And it doesn’t help when you look to the bottom of the page and see that it is in the “Solstice and Equinox” section. Of course it’s about midsummer – it’s right there in the title!

Well, not so much, as I discovered.

It’s a Yule tune. And more, it’s the Yule tune I have long needed and didn’t know existed.

Has summer come now, dawning amidst the winter’s snows?
And shall we nest the tiny birds within the pine tree’s boughs?
And shall we nest the tiny birds within the pine tree’s boughs?

Already now the candles have blossom’d on the tree
to light the longest winter night for all of us to see,
to light the longest winter night for all of us to see.

The old one now made youthful, just like a child at play,
the bending back now straighten’d so in our hearts we pray,
the bending back now straighten’d so in our hearts we pray.

In all our hearts is kindled a hearthfire so sublime.
Would that this yuletide spirit be with us for all time.
Would that this yuletide spirit be with us for all time.

Set to a delightful German folk tune, lyrics translated from the Finnish, this is just perfect. It actually deserves to be on a music box, and I can imagine a pianist lightly playing it up a couple of octaves on the piano as an instrumental before going back to what’s written so we can sing it.

It’s about a week early for the winter solstice tunes, but only that much. And I’m a bit delighted by this hymn. Now some of you might be saying “gee, Kimberley, you rail against hymns that don’t go anywhere, yet you like this simple little ditty? Just how fickle are you?”

Well, dear reader, it actually does do something. First, using it at the end of a solstice service would be a cheerful send off after entering the dark – a corrective, a harbinger of the light to come. Second, it embodies hygge, which Louisa Thomsen Brits (author of The Book of Hygge) describes as “art of building sanctuary and community, of inviting closeness and paying attention to what makes us feel open hearted and alive. To create well-being, connection and warmth. A feeling of belonging to the moment and to each other. Celebrating the everyday.”

This hymn is a little bit of hygge, and I’m grateful that this project gets me past the titles. What a delightful little gem on a cold near-winter morning.

Surely we can come up with some sort of rule, can’t we?