An ode to the space between.

When darkness nears and embers die,
the wind in trees a distant sigh,
the end of day like a lover’s voice nearby.

The night draws close, a fond embrace;
the heart then slows its frantic pace,
and fear drifts off as a calm breath takes its place.

The cradle of a velvet wing,
it holds us in its gentle swing,
and peace slips in with the songs our dreams will sing.

The end of day, the passing year,
the rush of time need cause no fear,
we’ll love the night and its myst’ry now so near.

I love a 5/4 time signature*. To me, there is a touch of the melancholy in 5/4 – not quite so regular as common time, not quite so lilting as a waltz. Something languid and rushing all at once. Something not quite calm, something not quite energized. The 5/4 time signature lives in the paradox. It lives in the space between, much like the twilight the lyrics describe.

Now one brief quibble: For the most part, this hymn is set there, and it works. But to make the final line of each verse work correctly, there’s a 4/4 measure, then a 7/4, and then we’re back to our mysterious 5/4. To be honest, that shift makes it hard to sing – baffling to many congregations, I suspect. But it does work, in the scope of the piece.

But then the lyrics: They’re laden with the paradox of twilight, thus meaning that the lyrics and the music fit. If this had been set to a more regular tune, it would maybe be easier to sing but it wouldn’t evoke the mystery and melancholy that the lyrics hold. As it is set, the secrets of the words come forth and leaves their impressions on the heart.

Well met.


*Other songs in 5/4 include “Everything’s Alright” (Jesus Christ Superstar) and “Nothing Like You’ve Ever Known” (Song and Dance) by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the “Theme from Mission Impossible” by Lalo Schifrin, “Seven Days” by Sting, and of course “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck.


That time I kept forgetting to sing.

Stillness reigns, the winds are sleeping. All the world is bent on keeping
tryst with night, whose wings are sweeping from the west each ray of light.

Dusk, a soft and silken cover, over all is seen to hover
in its readiness to cover all the drowsy world, good night.

Those who labored long, untiring, hail this time of rest desiring,
strength renewed through sweet retiring, welcome thoughts of peaceful night.

And through spaces real or seeming find the Eden of their dreaming,
soar to starry ways, redeeming hours of toil and pain, good night.

If a tune is unfamiliar (or even if it is vaguely familiar), I will sometimes visit the site Small Church Music to see if the tune is there, so that instead of plunking out notes on my little keyboard app, or just making it up, I can actually hear and learn the tune. Usually, there are a variety of accompaniments for a tune – piano, a band, and organ, and maybe some combination. I probably could have figured this one out fairly easily, but I opted for the easy way so I could focus on lyrics, as has been my wont lately.

Everything started off just fine. I found the tune and decided to play the organ version. I start singing: “Stillness reigns, the winds…” mm…I like this accompaniment. And how neatly the harmonies work. Oh. I’m not singing! “….ray of light.”

Next verse: “Dusk, a…” Oh, he’s changed it up. Neat. This works. It’s cheery, but not too schmaltzy. I wonder how this will work as a vespers tune. Is it really? What does it say?

Oh! Third verse…wow, I love this variation. Nicely played. It would be nice to have an organ sometimes. Oh crap, I’m not singing. “…welcome thoughts of peaceful night.”

Fourth verse: So strong, culminating in Eden! That works. Singing? What singing?

So yeah. That happened.

And I considered playing it again, singing it earnestly this time. But then I thought, this was my experience today – why change it? The tune’s in my head, so I’ll be humming it for a while – I’m humming it now. And maybe that’s all that’s necessary on a day like today, when my head is stuffy and the post-preaching exhaustion lingers and winter makes its first appearance.

Time for a little stillness to reign before the flurry of the holiday.


Wherein I fangirl a bit over a 19th century Unitarian minister and poet.

Again, as evening’s shadow falls, we gather in these hallowed walls;
and vesper hymn and vesper prayer rise mingling on the holy air.

May struggling hearts that seek release here find the rest of God’s own peace:
and, strengthened here by hymn and prayer, lay down the burden and the care.

Life’s tumult we must meet again; we cannot at the shrine remain;
but in the spirit’s secret cell may hymn and prayer forever dwell.

This is a gorgeous lyric, set to a lovely tune. It makes me again wish that I had the ability right now to hold vespers services.

But more than that, what I love about this lyric is the reality of it – no lofty ‘God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world’, no artificial perfection. No, it says, life sucks, but the singing and praying will help make it suck less so.

As I thought about the lyric, and noted that it was written by Samuel Longfellow, I realized that this is not the first time I’ve felt moved by his words. I noted in the post for O Life That Maketh All Things New that I felt better after singing the hymn, with its hopeful aspiration. And in the post for God of the Earth, The Sky, the Sea, that “I love this lyric – it’s grounding for me and harkens to something deep and primordial, something wholly of creation.” And now, today, I find comfort in lyrics like “may struggling hearts that seek release” and “life’s tumult we must meet again, we cannot at the shrine remain”… a sense that Longfellow isn’t willing to gloss over anything, but still recognizes that faith, and song, and prayer might be a reminder of our goodness and strength.

If ever there’s a message we need today, it’s this. It still feels in many ways like the world has crashed down around us… and yet our compulsion is still to gather in prayer, to lay down our burdens, to find strength. Our congregations were full or overflowing last week because of this compulsion. And Longfellow’s 150-or-so-year-old lyric not only speaks to this present moment, but reminds us that it’s a constant part of the human condition and human compulsion.

There doesn’t appear to be a lot known about him (although to be fair, I only just did a quick google search). And of course he fades under the light of his much more famous brother Henry. But I think that’s a shame, because our man Sam gets it. He speaks truth to our hearts. And he features prominently in our hymnal – we sing nine hymns with his lyrics. It’s becoming clear now why.

More signs of life returning?

Now on land and sea descending, brings the night its peace profound;
let our vesper hymn be blending with the holy calm around.

Jubilate! Jubilate! Jubilate! Amen.
Jubilate! Jubilate! Jubilate! Amen.

Soon as dies the sunset glory, stars of heav’n shine out above,
telling still the ancient story — their Creator’s changeless love. (Chorus)

Now, our wants and burdens leaving, to the Care that cares for all,
cease we fearing, cease we grieving; quietly our burdens fall. (Chorus)

As the darkness deepens o’er us, lo, eternal stars arise;
hope and faith and love rise glorious, shining in the spirit’s skies. (Chorus)

My first thought was “huh, this is an awfully cheerful song for an evening song.” But that thought soon passed as thought about a vespers service… I heard in my head the hymn sung by a choir, in a round, perhaps accompanied by a hand bell choir, echoing in a grand cathedral as day gives way to night. I longed for a space to hold such services with such performances. I added it to a mental checklist of worship experiences I wish to create for others – one of joy at a day’s work well done, with the ringing of bells and voices weaving together in joy.

My next thought was “wow, there’s a little bit of your creative spark returning.”

A few days ago, I attended a webinar led by my friend the Reverend Julie Taylor, the president of the UU Trauma Response Ministry (a group I hold dear to my heart, having availed myself of their services after a tragic accident a decade ago). In it, Julie talked about how our physiological response to traumatic events swings us into feeling over thinking, and in fact, that is part of why it feels abnormal; even when we feel strong emotion normally, our cognitive functioning far outweighs our emotional functioning. Julie suggested to us to find ways to get the thinking back. I didn’t really know what tasks to put on that side of the ledger… but I realize now that creating is one of those ways. And imagining a vespers service in a big space with a big musical presence and a spirit of jubilance – that’s a creative thing that is more thinking than feeling, even if the feelings are what propelled me.

I’m seeing glimmers now of my Self returning.

That feels like a bit of a relief.