I feel like I have fallen down a strange rabbit hole this morning.

I have to begin by assuring you all that I have no doubt about the excellent work our STJ hymnal commission did in gathering, researching, and arranging the 75 songs in this hymnal supplement. I recognize that we are always learning more, always finding more resources, and of course always expanding our theological and ethical understanding.

But because singing these songs often leads me to curiosity about its origins or uses, I jump in the rabbit hole of the internet…. and today, this rabbit hole is leading not to comfortable underground warren but to something Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have encountered, were she a minister looking for information on the internet.

According to the hymnal, this is an African American spiritual from the civil rights period. When I go to the UUA Song Information page, I find that

This was one of the songs that was used during the Civil Rights Era at virtually every demonstration, mass meeting of activists, and march in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Singing songs helped give the activists strength and a sense of self. For more detailed information, you may explore the book, When the Spirit Says Sing!: The Role of Freedom Songs in the Civil Rights Movement, written by Kerran L. Sanger.

Now I’d like to explore the book, but on this snowy Tuesday I have no access to a library, nor do I have an extra $48 to plunk down for this book (current list price on Amazon – even for the Kindle version). So I decide to hunt for other online resources about the song…. and what I find is that there are a number of different songs that have the same sort of structure but with various lyrics and melodies, like this one from Hymnary, and this one by Sweet Honey in the Rock. They are variations, and to be sure, I’m fairly certain some of them were used in the civil rights movement and some of them come out of an older spiritual tradition. It makes sense.

But I’m struggling to find anything about the version – this wonderful, jazzed up version arranged by Mark Freundt, with that one tricky spot that’s only tricky until you learn it. Until I run across this version, by children’s music performer Raffi. It is the only one I found with our melody, although some of the lyrics are different. And when I look for more information about this version, I find this:


Have we got the wrong song in our hymnal? Did we mean to have one of the others but starting singing Raffi instead?  I don’t doubt that the hymnal commission did their due diligence, but was this not the song they thought they were getting?

Like I said, a strange rabbit hole.

I’m not sure what to make of this, gentle readers. I do like this song and when played well has a rousing, almost Pentecostal spirit to it (in fact, it’s a great song for Pentecost). It’s a wonderful send off for services with a strong call to action, too.

Anyway, here are the lyrics – another great example of a zipper song.

You got to do when the spirit says do!
You got to do when the spirit says do!
When the spirit says do, you got to do, oh Lord!
You got to do when the spirit says do!
Spirit says do (6x)

Other verses may include sing, dance, laugh, shout, etc.

I’m feeling a bit at sixes and sevens having gone through this… I almost wish I hadn’t looked for more information now. But I will say I like the cut of the Mad Hatter’s jib…

Fred’s back!

Good ol’ Frederick Hosmer (with an M)  – 19th/early 20th c Unitarian minister and hymn lyricist – gives us the lyrics to the second of our two official Pentecost hymns.

I say official because according to STLT, this and Come Down O Love Divine are the two marked “Pentecost” – but what has become clear is that we have a lot of Pentecost hymns and songs all over our hymnals… from the joyful Every Time I Feel the Spirit, the jazzy Do When the Spirit Says Do (from Singing the Journey), and even the prayerful Spirit of Life.

It seems to me that Unitarian Universalists should be the people of the Pentecost, that time of spirit calling us to answer yes to loving the hell out of this world. Whether you believe this is the time of Jesus’ ascension into heaven or just that moment when the disciples truly became apostles (meaning they went from learning to preaching), it is a significant recognition of that which some call Spirit (or which we might call the fire of commitment – another good Pentecost hymn, as I think about it) dwelling within us, being that flame that burns within.

So I don’t know about our having only two official Pentecost hymns – but I do know this: as I said yesterday, Pentecost is about joy and excitement; I don’t think it’s a mistake that our General Assembly happens each year just after Pentecost, as we often get ourselves revved up for the work ahead, and our church is reborn a little into something a little different each time.

Anyway, I really like the lyrics Hosmer gives us for a Unitarian Pentecost:

O prophet souls of all the years, speak yet to us in love;
your faroff vision, toil and tears to their fulfillment move.

From tropic clime and zones of frost they come of every name;
this, this our day of Pentecost, on us the tongues of flame.

One Life together we confess, one all-in-dwelling Word,
one holy Call to righteousness within the silence heard:

One Law that guides the shining spheres as on through space they roll,
and speaks in flaming characters on Sinais of the soul:

One Love, unfathomed, measureless, an ever-flowing sea,
that holds within its vast embrace time and eternity.

What I don’t love is the tune. This one is Bangor – a serviceable tune to be sure, but not at all a rouser. In fact, it’s somewhat dour and all too serious. As it’s in common meter (CM), we have a plethora of other tunes to choose from – I personally like the McKee tune for these lyrics but would love even a new tune if that ever happened.

And yes, I still maintain that “love” and “move” don’t rhyme. GRR.

But all in all, a good hymn. Just don’t let this be the only Pentecost song you sing.

This is one of those hymns that make you go “huh!” (And that isn’t a bad thing.)

First “huh” – it’s a Pentecost song, most definitely, stuck in the Worship section. And I go “huh, is that so we’ll use it, because some music directors and ministers will flip right by that liturgical season?”

Second “huh” – it’s a spiritual from the 18th century, with unknown origins. And I go “huh, check out that coded language in the second verse, pointing to the Underground Railroad!”

Ev’ry time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart, I will pray.
Yes, ev’ry time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart, I will pray.

Upon the mountain, my God spoke,
o’er the mount came fire and smoke.
All around me looks so shine,
ask my God if all was mine.


The River Jordan runs right cold,
chills the body, not the soul.
Ain’t but one train on this track,
runs to heaven and right back.


Third “huh” – the first hit I get when putting this title into Google is Nat King Cole. “Huh, I didn’t know he did an album of hymns and spirituals…. is it sacrilege that I don’t like this version?”

Fourth “huh” I wonder if I can find a less late-50s-good-for-the-white-Ed-Sullivan-audience version on YouTube version to share with y’all, because “huh – this is a song you need to experience, not talk about.”

I did spend a long time listening to versions – and there are a plethora out there. But my eye was caught by the suggestion that the African American choral composer and arranger Moses Hogan did an arrangement of this song, and so I started listening to those. To be honest, there are a LOT of bad versions, mostly sung by high school and college ensembles. There’s the overproduced version by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, too, and men-only or women-only versions.

But “huh” happened again, when I found a version that really moved me, by the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, Philippines. Here they are, in some traditional garb (which is reflective of the Spanish influence on the indigenous culture, something I learned about during my CPE unit with a Filipino supervisor). I love this version, because there is such life and light in the soloist’s voice, demeanor, and eyes.

Enjoy. Feel the spirit.


Postscript: Sorry these are coming out so late these days – I seem to be experiencing a shift in my sleep habits since Easter. We’ll see if this is the new pattern or if I’ll go back to rising earlier.