This hymn has genuinely surprised me.

First, let’s talk tune: it’s set to an Hasidic melody that holds in its phrases a secret and unspoken longing – certainly an intriguing choice for a hymn called “When the Daffodils Arrive.”

I will also say that at first, I plunked it out fairly slowly – but then I took it at tempo, and learned its other secret: it is a dance.

When the daffodils arrive in the Easter of the year,
and the spirit starts to thrive, let the heart beat free and clear.

When the pussy willows bloom in the springing of the year,
let the heart find loving room, spread their welcome far and near.

When the sweet rain showers come, in the greening of the year,
birds will sing and bees will hum. Alleluia time is here.

Now there is something to make you go “hrm” here – it’s an Hasidic tune, talking about Easter. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that… it’s another juxtaposition that makes you wonder what the hymnal commission was thinking. But, here it is, Easter in an Hasidic tune.

And yet I love the lyrics. And I love the tune. I’m just not quite sure I would use this because of the jarring collision. But I’m not sure I wouldn’t either… the jury’s still out.

Not so much a morning song as a meditation song…

The morning, noiseless, flings its gold, and still is evening’s pace;
and silently the earth is rolled amid the vast of space.

Night moves in silence round the pole, the stars sing on unheard;
their music pierces to the soul, yet borrows not a word.

In quietude the spirit grows, and deepens hour to hour;
in calm eternal onward flows its all-redeeming power.

Attend, O soul; and hear at length the spirit’s silent voice;
in stillness labor; wait in strength; and, confident, rejoice.

In the land of hymns I have never sung arrives this one.

The morning song series has become almost comical now, one of those ironies you couldn’t make up if you tried. So I was bracing for another one, having spent the night thinking about straight white men and the propensity for some of them to see themselves as victims in a world they perceive as having limited power, success, and love. Bring it on, I thought, do your cheeriest happy morning song while I realize how sad life must be for some.

This hymn surprised me. Set in a minor key, it is contemplative – a hymn I might use to introduce a time of meditation, much like I might use a piece from Mark Belletini’s Sonata for Voice and Silence. And its lyrics invite us into silence – over and over. Not the rollicking springing forth of life as we’ve seen in other morning songs; instead, we get quietude and the silent music of the universe, inviting us to be silent, to labor, to wait, and finally to rejoice confidently.


In the last week, I’ve spent a lot of time away from social media and the news, grieving alone, seeking strength where I can get it, sitting in all of my feelings, hoping that strength will return, that hope will show through the cracks, that I will be able to act boldly and confidently again. This hymn gives my process permission to unfold as it has and as it will.

I thank all that is holy for this gift.

I don’t feel much like singing today. And in fact, I considered skipping today – hoping you all would understand that for those of us who regularly answer the call of love and justice, the American presidential election results have at least temporarily silenced the music.

But here I am, and this spiritual practice today brought me a prayer:

God who fills the universe from the atom to the stars,
make firm my changeful heart so I may do my part
and bring joy to all the earth.

God who webs the universe with amazing mysteries,
make glad my fragile soul so I can see life whole
and bring hope to all on earth.

God who keeps the universe by the truths of living love,
make strong that love in me so I can set it free
and bring peace to all on earth.

I am grateful for the tune’s minor key and gentle phrases.  I am grateful for the spaces in the lyrics for fear, anger, sadness, and vulnerability.

Today, that is enough.

May each of you find gentleness and space for all your emotions. Take care of yourself, beloveds.

Titles are deceiving…

View the starry realm of heaven,
shining distant empires sing.
Skysong of celestial children
turns each winter into spring, turns each winter into spring.

Great you are, beyond conception,
God of gods and God of stars.
My soul soars with your perception,
I escape from prison bars, I escape from prison bars.

You, the One within all forming
in my heart and mind and breath,
you, my guide through hate’s fierce storming,
courage in both life and death, courage in both life and death.

Life is yours, in you I grow tall,
seed will come to fruit I know.
Trust that after winter’s snowfall
walls will melt and Truth will flow, walls will melt and Truth will flow.

I have never sung this hymn. I have never really even paused to read the lyrics. I think once or twice I have noticed that it was written by notable Unitarian minister and martyr Norbert Capek. But I’ve easily flipped past, because we’ve got so many “ooo, look at God in nature” hymns already.

Mea culpa.

Sure, the first verse is lovely and nature filled. But this second verse… “my soul soars with your perception; I escape from prison bars.” And the verses after… “courage in both life and death”… “trust that after winter’s snowfall walls will melt and Truth will flow.”


A look to the bottom of the page – the tune is called Dachau. And I remember this, from the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography:

On the 28th of March, 1941, Čapek and his daughter, Zora, aged 29, were arrested by the Gestapo and taken to Pankrac Prison. Zora was accused of listening to foreign broadcasts and distributing the content of some BBC transmissions; Čapek himself of listening to foreign broadcasts and of “high treason.” Several of his sermons were cited as “evidence” of the latter charge. Listening to foreign broadcasts was a capital offense under the Protectorate. Two separate trials were held, the first at Pankrac Prison soon after their arrest; the second, an appeal of the original decision, at Dresden in April 1942. The appeals court found Čapek innocent of the treason charge, recommending that, given his age, the year between his arrest and the appeals trial be counted toward his jail time. The Gestapo, ignoring the court’s recommendation, nonetheless sent Čapek to Dachau, Zora to forced labor in Germany. Čapek’s name appears among prisoners sent on an invalid transport on October 12, 1942 to Hartheim Castle, near Linz, Austria, where he died of poison gas.

And I think to myself of all the people of faith who maintained their faith in the worst of atrocities – Čapek, yes, and Bonhoeffer and Frankl – and I think of all that our faith calls us to do, and how we find the courage to do so.

And my mind goes to my colleagues who are heading to Standing Rock to answer the call to clergy to come pray… and the call that went out 51 years ago to clergy to join King in Selma… and all of the times our faith calls us to face down atrocities, because our faith helps us find the courage to do so.

I’m not heading to Standing Rock because of various commitments here – but I support those who are going, and I pray with those who are, and I pray that all who are there remain safe.

“Life is yours – in you I grow tall.” May we all grow tall, and courageous, and may the truth flow.

Another edition of “why didn’t I know this one before?”

I am that great and fiery force
sparkling in everything that lives;
in shining of the river’s course,
in greening grass that glory gives.

I shine in glitter on the seas,
in burning sun, in moon and stars.
In unseen wind, in verdant trees
I breathe within, both near and far.

And where I breathe there is no death,
and meadows glow with beauties rife.
I am in all, the spirit’s breath,
the thundered word, for I am Life.

This is gorgeous. Everything about it is gorgeous – Hildegard of Bingen’s paean to the immanent God, the elegantly simple Renaissance tune by Josquin des Prés (Ave Vera Virginitas).

What I love most is that Hildegard has taken the God of Exodus 3 – the burning bush that declares “I am that I am” – and put that God in context with the whole of creation. Of course God is in the burning bush, because God is in everything, because God is everything, because – as she concludes – God is life.

Gorgeous. Powerful.

And for me, on a morning when I am full of doubts about my call, my spiritual life, my place in the world – this hymn has brought me home.

Every night and every morn
some to misery are born;
every morn and every night
some are born to sweet delight.

Joy and woe are woven fine,
clothing for the soul divine:
under every grief and pine
runs a joy with silken twine.

It is right it should be so:
we were made for joy and woe;
and when this we rightly know,
safely through the world we go.

William Blake. Swoon.

Seriously – an amazing poet, writing alongside Wordsworth, Shelley, Coleridge, Burns, Keats. Some of the most elegant poets of the English language, all exploring all manner of life, divinity, nature, and the essence of humanity… while Channing, Emerson, and Thoreau were exploring the same through theology and philosophy. A heady time of new thought.

But I digress. I was swooning over Blake’s poetry – wondering how it is I have spent all this time skimming past this hymn, not seeing its depth and beauty. It is something I deeply believe – that we cannot have joy without woe, nor woe without knowing there is joy somewhere, feeding and clothing our souls.

And how did I skim over this, knowing now that it is set to one of my favorite hymn tunes, the lush and delicious Ralph Vaughan Williams piece “The Call”? The two together are deep, and meaningful, and rich.

Part of this practice is about my own spiritual care – it isn’t just a daily homework assignment, although sometimes it strikes me as such. No, singing aloud to these hymns, in my kitchen while the coffee is brewing, is meant to be a spiritual practice to feed me and open my eyes to something.

And this one has brought me Right. Back. To. Center.

All of the insanity of the presidential election, all the tumult in the congregation, all the pain in the world, for a moment anyway, has been taken off my shoulders so that I may sit with my soul, full of joy and woe, and luxuriate in this beautiful hymn for this beautiful moment.


O God of stars and sunlight, whose wind lifts up a bird,
in marching wave and leaf-fall we hear thy patient word.
The color of thy seasons goes gold across the land:
by green upon the treetops we know thy moving hand.

O God of cloud and mountain, whose rain on rock is art,
thy plan and care and meaning renew the head and heart.
Thy word and color spoken, thy summer noons and showers —
by these and by thy dayshine, we know thy world is ours.

O God of root and shading of boughs above our head,
we breathe in thy long breathing, our spirit spirited.
We walk beneath thy blessing, thy seasons, and thy way,
O God of stars and sunlight, O God of night and day.

Another day, another unfamiliar hymn. This time, the tune (Bremen) is, if not actually a song I have sung, at least a song like many other songs I have sung; it’s of that early 18th century German formulaic, rather easily anticipated with one brief surprise hymn tune. Which of course, makes it easy to sing.

I think sometimes we forget the value of easy, seemingly familiar tunes, because they’re not wildly interesting. And I think it’s why some of the more modern hymns might fail – they are looking for interest, not easy singability. Musical interest is important – we don’t want to fall asleep while singing; but familiar musical patterns are easier for non-musicians to get the hang of.  It’s why zipper songs like Come and Go With Me and There Is More Love Somewhere work so well – the pattern, both of tune and lyric, are familiar to our Western bones and are easy to pick up.  Anyway – a long way to go to say this isn’t a spectacular tune but a serviceable one for this lyric, if not the most inspired match. (I’d have gone for Lancaster myself – the tune of O Day of Light and Gladness. But that’s me.)

This is a soaring lyric – by poet John Holmes (who, by the way, was a teacher of Ann Sexton). It is a beautiful paean to the Immanent God, the God in all things, in and above all the earth. “O God of cloud and mountain, whose rain on rock is art” – wow. How can we not want to sing praises to this God, even if we don’t believe in God? To sing to the poetry and awesomeness of the planet – to sing praise to stars and sunlight, night and day – is to sing about ourselves and all that is beyond ourselves.

A celebration of life, indeed. And one we need, in these tumultuous, trying days. It’s easy for us to read the news and think about the possibilities and become forlorn, full of world weariness and ennui. This hymn – this glorious, soaring praise for this glorious planet – is a balm to our souls.

I brought my spirit to the sea;
I stood upon the shore.
I gazed upon infinity,
I heard the waters roar.

And then there came a sense of peace,
some whisper calmed my soul.
Some ancient ministry of stars
had made my spirit whole.

I brought my spirit to the trees
that loomed against the sky.
I touched each wand’ring careless breeze
to know if god was nigh.

And then I felt an inner flame that
fiercely burned my tears.
Upright, I rose from bended knee
to meet the asking years.

I am sad to say I have never sung this before – sad because it is beautiful, and touches both lyrically and melodically on that mystery contained in all of existence. It is reverent and mystical and makes me want to take a walk along the Sound.

That it is the fourth hymn tells me of nature’s import to our hymn curators but also to our theology (at least the theology of the early 90s); it places our Transcendentalist forebears in a position of import. And I don’t know who ever sings it – I hope other congregations do, because I’ve never encountered it anywhere, other than in flips through the hymnal on the way to other hymns.

And that’s a shame. I for one want to really learn it and use it, because it speaks deeply, even to my very theist self.

The melody alone has a graceful flow, gentle scales supporting surprising intervals that emphasize the lyric mysticism. And the lyrics, calling us to give in and give over and draw strength from that which is so much bigger than us alone, tangible yet infinite. These lyrics evoke a primordial Yes… “I felt an inner flame that fiercely burned my tears” … “An ancient ministry of stars had made my spirit whole”…. I am surrendered. I am ready. Yes… deep within my soul, every cell and molecule cries ‘yes’ to the ancient mystery.

Words by Max Capp
Music by Alex Wyton