There’s a thing that’s been happening in our congregations that is reflective of what’s been happening in our society: anxiety.

Anxiety about the current administration – its real and sustained attacks on our principles and the real and sustained traumas we are experiencing – spill over from our personal lives into our houses of worship. And while we’d like to think we are our best selves at our congregations, we often are not. And suddenly, we find ourselves more anxious about things we can’t control and a bit overprotective of things we can. Things that were never an issue before are now a crisis, and things that require focus and attention get obscured by the day’s outrage.

Sound familiar?

It’s a natural thing, what we are experiencing – and I know religious professionals are in some cases struggling to help the congregations they serve remain focused on health and growth. There are many resources being employed, and I’m not here to talk about things like family systems or congregational management – there are many resources and well trained colleagues out there. But what I do know is that the one hour most of us spend together each week matters.

In that one hour each week, we can experience a pause in the action, that can help us deal with anxiety. We should be offering worship that subtly (or not so subtly) pushes the rudder to help us correct course, that provide comfort for those worn, frayed nerves while challenging the status quo. We need sermons and readings that call us to our best selves. And we perhaps most of all, music that reminds us of who we are and who we want to be must ring through our sanctuaries.

Like this one, another beauty by Jim Scott:

Let this be a house of peace,
Of nature and humanity,
of sorrow and elation,
Let this be our house,
A haven for the healing,
An open room for question,
and our inspiration.

Let this be a house of peace.
Let this be our house of peace.

Let this be a house of freedom;
Guardian of dignity
and worth held deep inside us,
Let this be our house,
A platform for the free voice,
Where all our sacred diff’rences
here shall not divide us.


Let all in this house seek truth,
Where scientists and mystics,
abide in rev’rence here,
Let this be our house,
A house of our creation,
Where works of art and melodies
consecrate the atmosphere.


Let this be a house of prophesy,
May vision, for our children
Be our common theme.
Let this be our house
Of myth and lore and legend,
Our trove of ancient story,
and cradle of most tender dreams.


Now I’m on the fence about this being a congregational sing, because of two things: while The Oneness of Everything is considered long for a hymn, this one is actually really long and is hard to cut down without glaring omission; additionally, unlike Jim’s other songs, each verse has a different rhythm – fine for a solo or choral work, hard for a congregational sing.

And yet, the melody is gorgeous, and the chorus is amazing; even if this is only ever sung by a choir or soloist, the congregation should sing the chorus, repeating it as a mantra, especially noting the change from “a house” to “our house.” The lyrics (with more delightful phrases like “where works of art and melodies consecrate the atmosphere”) serve as reminders of who we are and want to be in crystal clear, yet still lush language. It is a wonderful piece for services about the sources and the third and fourth principles, but mostly a wonderful piece to use anytime we need to remind ourselves what our congregations should be at the best.

I’m not sure any of us – individuals or institutions – are at their best right now. But it’s nice to remember that a vision of what ‘best’ could be sits in our hymnals, ready for us to invoke.

I love this image of the Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo in New Zealand – via Pixabay.

I don’t know if it’s still true, but I remember in high school learning a bit about quantum physics – enough at least to know that physicists at the time weren’t sure if the universe is made of particles or waves. (Google suggests that there’s now an uncomfortable acceptance of a duality, but that’s a mind-blowing thought for another day.) Back then, the research fell victim to confirmation bias – if scientists were looking for a particle, they saw a particle; if they were looking for a wave, they found a wave.

I think the same is true for this song. Are you looking for humanism? It’s here. Looking for God? Yep. Looking for a song about the interdependent web? Gotcha covered. Fourth principle too. Looking for first source? Fifth source? Sixth source? Yep, yep, yep. Oh, and do you want a bit of process theology? Howdy!

Far beyond the grasp of hands,
or light to meet the eye,
past the reaches of the mind,
There find the key to nature’s harmony
in an architecture so entwined.
Like the birds whose patterns grace the sky
and carry all who join in love expanding,
The message of peace will rise in flight
taking the weight of the world upon its wings,
In the oneness of ev’rything.

Peace is in the dance of trees,
who stir before the first
breath of wind is yet perceived.
Trust in the song, becoming one with the dance,
and all mysteries can be believed.
Songs of lives long past that touch our own
are written in the earth evergiving,
And now to maintain the harmony
gives to us all lives worth living,
For the oneness of ev’rything.

Still we seek to find a truth
that we might understand
and reduce to terms defined
Vast and immeasurable time and space
all so overwhelmingly designed.
Oh, passing years just might I know the faith
that winters in the heart to be reborn in spring.
To hear and to feel the pulse of life
enters my soul as a song to sing,
Of the oneness of ev’rything.

There are many wonderful Jim Scott songs in our hymnals – from the very familiar Gather the Spirit to the hardly sung Tradition Held Fast, along with others we’ve sung/will sing. But I think this is my favorite; its lyrics are rich (I mean, how many times do you get to sing “vast and immeasurable time and space”?), the melody is interesting and easy to sing, and while it seems long, it’s worth it. (I should write about why we expect hymns to be so short when we don’t expect songs on the radio to be.)

The melody, while not super-easy, is much more intuitive than some of his other pieces, and I’ve never seen a congregation just not get it with a good song leader. The key to singing this in our congregations is not dragging. It’s written in a lush 2/2 with one beat = half note – 64 bpm, which is about right. Any slower and it’s just deadly, and definitely not the song Jim wrote (which you should totally listen to here).


Just before I opened the hymnal, I saw a Facebook post from a dear friend who asked ‘But what if this world runs out of lovers? What then?”

Then for me was opening the hymnal to this wonderful hymn, reminding us to draw the circle ever wider, because – as Susan Frederick Gray has reminded us, “no one is outside the circle of love.”

And to me, that’s our call. Right now, as we find ourselves shockingly having debates about Nazis and white supremacists, we also must find ourselves speaking out from this circle of enabling love, growing it ever wider, actively loving the hell – and the hate – out of this world.

This hymn is incredibly aspirational. Seemingly unattainable, in fact. Can there ever be this much love? And yet, the vision described by Fred Kahn (who also wrote lyrics for Almond Trees Renewed in Bloom is precisely what we need today.

Break not the circle of enabling love
where people grow, forgiven and forgiving;
break not that circle, make it wider still,
till it includes, embraces all the living.

Come, wonder at this love that comes to life,
where words of freedom are with humor spoken,
and people keep no score of wrong and guilt,
but will that human bonds remain unbroken.

Join then the movement of the love that frees,
till people of whatever race or nation
will truly be themselves, stand on their feet,
see eye to eye with laughter and elation.

A side note about the tune, written by the delightful Tom Benjamin (whose praises I have sung before): do you ever wonder why a tune has a particular – and sometimes unusual name? I suppose there are any number of reasons, often tied to the original lyrics, although some tunes get a name to honor a person or a place. Such is the case with this one, called Yaddo. I learned from Tom that he once spent a summer at an artist’s retreat at Yaddo, this incredible place with a gorgeous mansion and lovely gardens, and it was there – not 3 miles from my home congregation – where he wrote this tune. It is one that holds a special place in my heart because of the local connection.

Anyway. I love this hymn. I think it is exactly what we need to remember today as we show up on the side of good, the side of inclusion, the side of love.

Photo is part of this article from Lake George Magazine on Yaddo – a very interesting read!

If this spiritual practice (and yes, I still consider it a spiritual practice first and foremost) has taught me anything, it’s taught me that we are an aspirational faith. Even those hymns which were once cutting edge and are now problematic show us the truth of our assertion that revelation is not sealed – as we continue to expand our knowledge and our minds, the circle growing ever wider.

I mention this because on a day when the last thing we need are songs about love, on a day when what we need is the next ten words, and the ten after that, which tell us what to do next… we get a song about love. I admit, I groaned. What ever am I going to write, when this is the last thing we need?

And yet, as I sang, I realized that this aspirational faith (and this spiritual practice that seems to be conspiring with current events to put not the hymn I want but the hymn I need in front of me) has given us one of the most beautiful songs we have, about love, yes, but about more. It not only talks of joining together in love, but it gives us the next ten words – namely “we pledge ourselves to greater service, with love and justice.”

We would be one as now we join in singing
our hymn of love, to pledge ourselves anew
to that high cause of greater understanding
of who we are, and what in us is true.
We would be one in living for each other
to show to all a new community.

We would be one in building for tomorrow
a nobler world than we have known today.
We would be one in searching for that meaning
which bends our hearts and points us on our way.
As one, we pledge ourselves to greater service,
with love and justice, strive to make us free.

I need this aspiration of love and justice, of coming together to show the world what beloved community really looks like. And yes, if you’re just waking up to our nation’s long and ugly history of hate and violence, well, we’ll ignore the fact that you’re late to the party and just be glad you showed up at all.  This song is for you, calling you in to consider what’s beyond the flurry of pink hats and emails to your Congress critters. A reminder of what you are just now discovering. A call to keep showing up. A call to work, to learn, to listen, to pray, to sing.

Now if you’ve been on the front lines, in the trenches, boots on the ground and in the streets, teaching and preaching until you’re blue in the face, this song is for you too. A reminder what that hard work is about. A call back to our hearts and our beliefs. A reminder that we are not doing this alone, and if it feels like you are, look around and find others who will work with you, teach with you, listen with you, pray with you, sing with you.

And if you haven’t been doing anything, this song is for you as well. A reminder of what must be done, a reminder that we all find our own way to serve “that high cause of greater understanding of who we are and what in us is true.” A reminder that you don’t have to do this alone, and if it feels like you are, look around and find others who will help you, teach you, guide you, work with you, pray with you, sing with you.

And in it all, yes, a call to love. Because love isn’t fluffy pink hearts and slo-mo runs through a sun-dappled meadow. Love is a verb. Love calls us to act. Love calls us to build “for tomorrow a nobler world than we have known today.” If the way we enter all of this work is paved with love, then we are well grounded as we answer love’s call.

For completeness’ sake, I should mention that the lyrics (set to the Finlandia tune by Jean Sibelius) were written by Unitarian minister Samuel Anthony Wright, for Unitarian and Universalist youth at their Continental Convention of 1953-54. As Jacqui James notes in Between the Lines, “At this conference they merged to form the Liberal Religious Youth of the United States and Canada, setting a model for the Unitarian Universalist denominational consolidation in 1961.” We would be one, indeed.

Now THIS is a humanist hymn I can get behind.

What a glorious celebration of that creating, created, creative spark within each of us that is greater than the sum of us and that in the living evokes Mystery.

Earth is our homeland: a song of stars, a grace
wrought of the ages, an opal spun in space!
Dawn’s far blue hill, soft nighttime still, dark ocean depth, smooth stone —
for gifts sublime that hallow time we’ll sing, making deep thanksgiving known.

Word is our glory, our breath of air, our cry!
Parables, letters, or star names in the sky,
or myths that play as poets pray bring meaning to our lives.
For ev’ry praise that hones our days we’ll sing, till the final day arrives.

Music is wonder, an alchemy of art,
love’s pure enchantment, communion for the heart!
From chants to Psalms, from jazz to Brahms, no soul may stay at rest.
For starry choir in sky afire we’ll sing, joined with them in anthem blessed.

Hope is our high star, the certitude love brings;
silence our center, our living water’s spring.
Though aching heart know self apart from Whole and Mystery,
for gatherings of strengthening we’ll sing, throughout human history.

If you detected some Belletini here, you’ve got a good eye (or ear). He wrote this with fellow Hymnal Commission member Helen Pickett (whose husband Eugene served as UUA president). I love the patterns of poetry, the metaphors, and frankly, the fact that they set it to the Brahms hymn tune Symphony – and by the way, in verse three, we see what you did there.

I haven’t sung it much – I wonder if its length puts some people off. Or maybe we don’t preach about creativity and the arts enough – because this is a perfect hymn for that. Or maybe – as regular reader Kaye would agree – using the first line as a title is misleading. You really wouldn’t know that past the first verse it’s about creativity and process theology from the words “Earth is our homeland” – would you? (And here’s the real shame – I have preached a sermon called The Art of Meaning a couple of times, but never when I could use three hymns, so this never made the cut. I’m preaching it tomorrow, and I had the perfect opportunity to use it, and I plum forgot. Dammit.)

Anyway – I love this piece and highly recommend writing services for which this is the perfect hymn to sing. Partly because I love the hymn, but partly because we need to talk about creativity, the arts, and humanity’s connection to both Earth and Mystery a whole lot more.

There’s a special announcement at the end of this post – but you have read it first. No cheating! (Like I’d notice, but really, what fun would it be? Especially since there’s a good hymn to talk about!)

This hymn, y’all. It’s not the most lush or most poetic, but don’t let aesthetics get in the way of an incredibly important message: STOP LIMITING GOD.

I know that it’s an easy trap for all of us – me included – to fall into. It’s what kept me from talking to God for over a decade, figuring that God was prey to human whims and conditions. But the day I realized, sobbing in my car with my snoring then-boyfriend in the passenger seat, that God speaks without limits, through all of creation, and loves abundantly, more abundantly than seven billion humans could begin to conceive – that day was a lightning bolt. If I were a 16th century German monk, I’d have fallen off my horse, it was that strong.

And even in the lyrics (by Frederick William Faber), the metaphors trying to help us understand the expansiveness are limited – “like the wideness of the sea” is a nice start and infinitely more imaginable than is the wideness of the Divine. But I venture that like me, standing on the shore of an ocean reminds you of that expansive, infinite whatever-it-is that is so much bigger than us.

There’s a wideness in your mercy like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in your justice which is more than liberty.

But we make your love too narrow by false limits of our own,
and we magnify your strictness with a zeal you will not own.

For the love of God is broader than the measures of our minds
and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.

I needed this hymn today. Those days when it’s rainy and dark, when the to do list is so long you have several of them cross referenced to keep track, when exhaustion and allergies and the unrelenting sadness and anger of the times beats down. Those days, a hymn like this, with its Sacred Harmony lilt, gets inside and pulls me out of the funk, at least for a moment, as I remember how wide, merciful, kind, and loving the Divine truly is.


And now, the announcement: I love engaging with you all in comments here and Facebook, and I thought it would be fun to engage in person… click here to learn more!

And…today’s image is from the Hubble – the Tarantula Nebula. Infinite indeed.

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 started this post thinking it was random thought day here at the Far Fringe, but as I write, I realize I do have some thoughts, largely because what I have learned about the song. So here goes:

First, it’s helpful to know what this song is and where it’s from. It was written in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga, a Xhosa minister at a Methodist mission school. The hymn was originally a pan-African song of liberation and was adopted at different times as a national anthem by various countries, including Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia , and Zimbabwe. It is now part of the South African national anthem and remains the national anthem of Tanzania.

It’s interesting to listen to the South African national anthem, as it is definitely a mashup of several songs in several languages (South Africa recognizes 11 official languages – English, Xhosa, and Zulu are the top three). And recognizing that getting to that moment (in 1994) was hard won, it’s (to me at least) a joy to know that this song of liberation leads off the anthem.

While the hymnal, Between the Lines, and some other sites list this as being in the Zulu language, I have also found references to this being in Xhosa, which are somewhat related but distinct South African languages. I’m not faulting the hymnal commission, because they might be right – I just wonder why there’s some conflict in the information. Is this a byproduct of western imperialism that we can’t even detect what language a song is written in?

I wasn’t sure how I felt about this being included in the hymnal, nor the idea of a bunch of white Americans singing it. I’m glad we have it, and I think because the continent of Africa is the cradle of humanity itself, it’s important that we remember and raise our awareness of the ugly imprint centuries of European colonization have left across the continent. I’m not sure as a European American I can sing this without a great deal of care and preparation. I’d be curious to hear from others on this score. But I am glad it’s here for us to see and hear and think about.

I’ll leave you with this version, with Miriam Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Paul Simon (this has to be in the 1990s, but I’m not clear what this was).

N’ko-si, si-kel-el’ i Afrika,
mal-u-pha-ka-nyi-sw’u-phon-do lwa-yo.
Yiz-wa i-mi-than-da-zo ye-thu.
N’ko-si sikel-el-a.
Thi-na lu-sa-pho lwa-yo.

Wo-za mo-ya, (wo-za mo-ya,)
wo-za mo-ya, (wo-za mo-ya,)
wo-za mo-ya o-wo-yi-ngcwe-le.

Bless, O God, our country, Africa,
so that she may waken from her sleep.
Fill her horn with plenty, guide her feet.
Bless our mother Africa.
Bless our mother Africa.

Spirit descend, (spirit descend,)
spirit descend, (spirit descend,)
spirit descend, spirit descend.
Spirit divine,
Spirit divine.

Bless our mother Africa.

My first instinct this morning was to talk around the history of this song to get to a discussion of grammar – namely the meaning that shifts when we go from singing ‘we will overcome’ to ‘we shall overcome’… there’s something there, but god help me I just can’t be bothered to dig in. And really, if you are interested in the history, Google is your friend.

As soon as I started writing, I thought about what actually awakened me with a start this morning, and that’s this thought: with the testimony of the Director of the FBI, clearly stating there’s an investigation about 45’s ties to Russia, and Rep. Adam Schiff’s eloquent litany of the circumstantial evidence, I worry this morning: are we being played?

Will this result in nothing, like a tantalizing distraction, while morality, ethics, justice, and compassion are thrown away like yesterday’s candy wrappers? Are we really placating ourselves with these snippets only to find ourselves being crushed and destroyed as a country, as a democracy, as human beings?

And if that’s the case, shall we ever overcome? I know it’s our duty as humans to overcome, but will we? And how will singing a song together at marches and rallies and services make a whisper of a difference?

 We shall overcome,
we shall overcome,
we shall overcome someday!
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe
we shall overcome someday!

We’ll walk hand in hand,
we’ll walk hand in hand,
we’ll walk hand in hand someday!
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe
we’ll walk hand in hand someday!

We shall all be free,
we shall all be free,
we shall all be free someday!
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe
we shall all be free someday!

We shall live in peace,
we shall live in peace,
we shall live in peace someday!
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe
we shall live in peace someday!

This is so aspirational, so confident. I feel so little of that this morning. I am scared to death, and on a day like today I feel paralyzed. Singing this song, alone with my thoughts, did nothing to assuage my fears.

Perhaps it would be better if I was singing with others, or in a place of action. Sitting in my sister’s living room is most assuredly not that place.

But as am scared today. Maybe I’ll be better tomorrow, and maybe tomorrow I will see a way out of the paralyzing fear, but today, I’m not so sure we shall overcome.

image is from a 1966 rally organized by SNCC in Virginia.

Remember when I was eyeballs deep in those aspirational hymns in the In Time To Come section? And how wearing, given our current political crisis, I found them?

Yeah. Here we are again. I am worn out by these hymns, barreling down, calling us over and over and over again to remain hopeful and energized. I am feeling quite unhopeful and exhausted right now. And may I say, Dear Spiritual Practice, I don’t need you reminding me of what I know already.


I also know that what I am doing is not normal, and we don’t just sing through the hymnal like this. My experience is not a typical experience.

For people approaching this hymn in a typical manner, flipping through hymns known and unknown seeking a couple of songs of inspiration and vision, this one will certainly fit the bill. Odell Shepard’s lyrics remind us of our aspirations and calls us to remember what it’s all about. (Plus, the tune’s a familiar one from the Southern Harmony collection.)

Peace! The perfect word is sounding, like a universal hymn
under oceans, over mountains, to the world’s remotest rim.

Toiling centuries have struggled upward on a stony way
just to set the torch of freedom where it flames aloft today.

All the old forlorn lost causes, every fair forbidden dream,
and the prophet’s hopeless vision, and the poet’s fitting gleam,

All the hopes of subject peoples, all the dreams of the oppressed,
must be ours, our hopes, our visions. We can never stay or rest.

Good, solid lyrics, hopeful, aspirational. The right hymn, I am sure, for many occasions, which could be well paired with any of the other Peace or In Time to Come or even Freedom songs.

Just don’t try to sing them all, all at once.

The picture? Oh, that’s a peace plant. 🙂