So… I have thoughts. In no particular order:

Jim Scott does like a long verse, doesn’t he? (No judgment, really, just noticing that his song make for long hymns.)

It took three phrases to become a Jim Scott song, because he has a signature style – and then it’s very much a Jim Scott composition. (Again, no judgment – more of an ‘oh!’ when we get there.)

If you omit the first verse, this is a great child dedication song. (And maybe you don’t even have to omit the first verse, if you can hang through “ancient story” and “longest night.”

Ancient story lived again, dark of longest night.
Birth of innocence and hope kindles our delight.
All celebrate the labor’s end.
Forth in laughter, tear and smile.
Light of love and joy extend all around the child

New life fragile yet complete, life from love once more.
Universal miracle, faith in life restore.
The harmony of all the world
lulls the newborn child to rest.
Welcome dreamer, safely sleep on your mother’s breast.

May our wonder never cease, Nature’s greatest art.
Birth and breath of life again warms the coldest heart.
Now rich and simple gifts bestowed,
Sacred promises well made.
Reverence and hope renewed all around the babe.

Vision for humanity, all around the child.
Loving as one family all around the child.
Life passages well understood,
known and felt around the earth;
Rich or poor we each are blessed by the miracle of birth.

Which brings me to the last thought (well, almost – I’m trying to figure out his use of the word “forth” in the first verse): this is a very non-offensive hymn for a group of people who are offended by celebrating the birth of Jesus every year and the explicit nature of many beloved carols. And I get it. I mean, I have personally heard the criticisms of a rather Christian Christmas Eve service (“because it’s Christmas-freaking-Eve” I want to shout but don’t), and I suspect this piece comforts people because while some of the key notes are hit (“reverence and hope renewed”, “miracle of birth”, “the child”, “ancient story”, etc.) there’s nothing terribly explicit about the birth of Jesus – thus my assertion that this could be used for a child dedication. You know it’s a Christmas song because we put it in the Christmas section and hint to it, but it’s really quite ubiquitous.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s a good song, and I have used it. It’s one of the easier Jim Scott pieces for a congregation to sing, as long as there are strong song leaders for the Scott turn in the third phrase. I am always impressed with Jim’s lyricism and turns of phrase.

But my thoughts have turned into feelings, and something isn’t feeling right to me. Maybe it’s the grief talking, maybe it’s the exhaustion of so many days of hymns, maybe it’s the spectre of a new project that involves the Bible. The truth is, I am not sure what I’m feeling about it, but it feels tender to me.

Anyway. Don’t be put off by its length. Or break it up. Or pick a couple of verses. And have a strong song leader.

Another image from Pixabay. Babies come with hats.

Back in the 1980s, there was a series of commercials produced by the group Partnership for a Drug-Free America that became memes before memes were a thing; perhaps most famous is the “this is your brain on drugs” one, featuring an egg in a hot frying pan. But in second place is the one featuring a man confronting his son about drugs. “Who taught you how to do this stuff?!” he shouts incredulously. “You! I learned it by watching you” is the shocking reply.

That commercial came to mind when I sang this song, because it too is about how the ways we behave as adults affect our children. Shelly Denham’s wonderful song reminds us to take our role seriously – whether we’re parenting or just part of the community that holds our children in care.

When I am frightened, will you reassure me?
When I’m uncertain, will you hold my hand?
Will you be strong for me, sing to me quietly?
Will you share some of your stories with me?
If you will show me compassion,
then I may learn to care as you do,
then I may learn to care.

When I am angry, will you still embrace me?
When I am thoughtless, will you understand?
Will you believe in me, stand by me willingly?
Will you share some of your questions with me?
If you will show me acceptance,
then I may learn to give as you do,
then I may learn to give.

When I am troubled, will you listen to me?
When I am lonely, will you be my friend?
Will you be there for me, comfort me tenderly?
Will you share some of your feelings with me?
If you will show me commitment,
then I may learn to love as you do,
then I may learn to love.

On the UUA Song Information page, we learn the origins of this song:

This song, also titled Then I May Learn, was commissioned in 1999 by the First Unitarian Church of Dallas for their Hymnal Supplement (Voices of the Spirit) which was published for their Centennial Celebration. Because of her life-long commitment to working with and empowering youth, Shelley took the opportunity to write a piece based on children’s yearning for truth, respect, and engagement with adults. In keeping with a philosophy that “children are watching, what are they learning?”, Then I May Learn is meant as a reminder that all children deserve and need compassion, acceptance, commitment…and that they often learn to both give and receive these essential elements of relationship through the simple act of observation.

In my short time in the parish, I didn’t dedicate any children, but you can bet I would have used this song as part of that ritual. And maybe we need to be reminded of this outside of those moments as well.

What we do matters. How we show love matters. And it matters not only to our children but to each other and this hurting world. It matters, as we continue to be traumatized by this administration. It matters, as we find the courage to resist, to fight, to say “me too.” We need each other to be present for each other as we fight the good fight. It matters.

The image is a still from the above-mentioned commercial.


When I was a little girl, my mom would come to tuck me in every night and sing lullabies to me. Now I’m pretty certain some of the songs weren’t actually lullabies, but many of them were. She had a rich alto voice, and she loved to sing. At one point, she put the songs on a cassette that met its untimely death by water damage. But I can still remember her sitting on my bed, singing one after another like a lullaby medley.

In fact, Mom sang a lot. She’d sing morning songs, like “Good Morning” from Singin’ in the Rain, from the bottom of the stairs to wake us up. She’d sing “Poor Jud” from Oklahoma to help her keep time when kneading bread. She’d sing doing chores, driving places, gardening, or just when a song struck her.

And you wonder where I get it from.

Mom died ten years ago this month, and it feels simultaneously like so long ago and just yesterday. And in fact, the memory of her sitting on the side of my bed, singing to me all those years ago (lordy, half a century ago!), feels fresh and present. For all our struggles – because what strong daughter doesn’t have some struggles with their strong mother – Mom was a deeply compassionate, loving, caring, funny, creative woman. I get some of my fierceness from her, along with her eye for detail, a love of language, skill in the kitchen, and of course the music.

Including this beautiful lullaby.

And now, apparently, my spiritual practice this morning is to sit on the sofa with the hymnal on my lap, computer open and waiting, bawling my eyes out and not actually singing.

Sleep, my child, and peace attend you, all through the night.
I who love you shall be near you, all through the night.
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping,
hill and vale in slumber sleeping,
I my loving vigil keeping, all through the night.

Mother, I can feel you near me, all through the night.
Father, I know you can hear me, all through the night.
And when I am your age nearly,
still I will remember clearly,
how you sang and held me dearly, all through the night.

While the moon her watch is keeping, all through the night;
while one-half the world is sleeping, all through the night.
Even while the sun comes stealing,
visions of the day revealing,
breathes a pure and holy feeling, all through the night.

This traditional lullaby has been adapted by Alicia Carpenter but I don’t notice a difference between what is on the page and what I remember… and frankly, I haven’t the wherewithal to care at the moment.

It’s lovely, and sad, and sweet, and now I know why I will never use it – because it wouldn’t do to have the minister baptize the child with tears.

Mom loved Colonial-era décor, and our house was an early American marvel when she got done with it. We’d often go to historical sites for day trips and vacations, and this photo of a cradle also reminds me of her.

Last night, friend and colleague Peggy Clarke told me this practice is “a source of insight.” Which is funny to me this morning, as I have absolutely nothing interesting to say about today’s hymn. No insight. No brilliant analysis. Not even a good joke… dang.

Anyway, this hymn. It’s a decent Brian Wren lyric, set to a tune commissioned for STLT from composer Alan Hovhaness. It’s in a tricky 3+4/4 rhythm that probably flows if I had accompaniment.

And the truth is, while I have attended many child dedications, I have never heard this sung or played, so I wonder if its trickiness is what puts people off, or if it’s something else? Anyway, here are the lyrics:

Wonder of wonders, life is beginning,
fragile as blossom, strong as the earth.
Shaped in a person, love has new meaning,
parents and people sing at their birth.

Now with rejoicing, make celebration;
joy full of promise, laughter through tears,
naming and blessing, bring dedication,
humble in purpose over the years.

Yay, babies.

Sorry I have nothing more…except, wait, if you want a different setting to Wren’s lyrics (including the third verse, which goes like this – “Lord of creation,  Dying and living / Father and Mother,  Partner and Friend / Lover of children,  Lift all our loving / Into your kingdom,  World without end”) check out this recording by David Haas.

Update: The brilliant Michael Tino offered this brilliant suggestion: you could also sing this to Morning Has Broken (tune: Bunessan). As he rightly notes, it “seems a fitting tune.”

This photo was taken at a simply lovely child dedication held during Professional Days (just prior to General Assembly) in Providence, RI, 2014. Yay, babies!