Callou, callay! O frabjous day!

Yes, this joyful song leads me to quote Lewis Carroll – because there is in both a pure celebration of the moment. As arranged here by the always delightful Susan Peck, Wendy Luella Perkins’ song has energy and life. And because of the STJ commission’s commitment to good singing, Peck has added a harmony line. Her choral arrangement adds even more harmonies and rhythms that bring the song as close to Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” without going full-on funk.

It’s a great piece. And…this isn’t the whole song.

Oh, we give thanks for this precious day,
For all gather’d here, and those far away;
For this time (food) we share with love and care,
Oh, we give thanks for this precious day.

I know this because I asked.

From 2009-2013 (and picking up again this year), I was the coordinator for our cluster-wide joint services – four (now five) congregations coming together to worship and connect. In our first year, it was about building bridges between our congregation; our second year was then about seeing ourselves not just as individual congregations but as one larger body in the Capital Region. We wanted to open joyfully with this song, but it didn’t quite do all we wanted it to do – including give time for a processional. The committee talked about other songs but kept coming back to this one, and finally I said I’d contact the composer to see if she had other verses.

Which she did – and happily gave us permission to use:

Oh, we give thanks for the old and young,
For a time of wonder, joy, and fun
For all we give as we grow and live,
Oh, we give thanks for the old and young.

This gave us a generational connection even as we were making other, broader connections. And it gave us another verse to sing, deepening the meaning of all that we were giving thanks for on that day.

We give thanks for this precious song.

A few times over the course of this practice, I’ve talked about the work of a hymn, mostly in reference to hymns that I don’t think carry their weight. And some of you have asked me what I mean by that, and it’s important as we approach today’s hymn, which I’m not sure I like.

For me, this discussion begins with remembering the inextricable connection between worship and theater, as ancient humans began to act out their centering stories and ideas about how the world and the mysterious worked. As religions develop with their various performative elements, so does performance outside the ritual space, each growing up and changing in tandem. At some point there’s a clear delineation, yet through the millennia, liturgy learns from theater learns from liturgy learns from theater ad infinitum. It shouldn’t surprise you that one of my courses in seminary was entitled Ritual and Performance, where we explored performative arts in our deepening of ritual form and function.

Now central to theater, and subsequently to worship as well, is what we might call  story arc; something shifts from the time we start to the time we finish. If we’re listening to a fairy tale, we go from ‘once upon a time’ to ‘they lived happily ever after.’ If we’re watching a play – say, Romeo and Juliet – we go from ‘Two households, both alike in dignity / In fair Verona, where we make our scene” to ‘For never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” And in between, there’s a story. We go from point to point, each part of the performance getting us further along.

This is especially important when we talk about musical theater, as what separates the art form from others is that the music isn’t tangential but is vital to the plot. Something changes or shifts during each song, whether it’s expository information that helps us get oriented (“Fugue for Tinhorns” from Guys and Dolls explains the setting and general character of our characters) or working out a decision (“Rose’s Turn” from Gypsy), or making/breaking a connection between characters (“No One Is Alone” from Into the Woods). Occasionally you have a true performance piece (“Don’t Tell Mama” from Cabaret), but even there, there’s something happening about character and plot, an undercurrent even as you enjoy the number.

Through this lens, then, liturgical elements in a worship service – from introits and opening hymns to prayers, readings, sermons, and offerings to benedictions and postludes – all have a performative character and are meant to do some work to  move our ‘story’ along. Sometimes our story, or arc, is hard to nail down, but whatever our worship’s intent, we are in fact telling a sacred story with words and music. Thus, thinking about each separate element in terms of this musical theater idea of the work of the songs will help create the emotional, spiritual, and intellectual journey we hope to bring people on (whether it be deepening, awakening, healing, etc.).

Which means our music – including our hymns – have work to do. They are elements that help shape the arc of our worship so that we’re not experiencing emotional or spiritual whiplash. It’s why we spend a lot of time looking for the right hymns with the right mood and feel, hymns that mean we’re a little bit changed (or have the potential to be) by the time we’ve finished singing them. And I recognize that one reason this spiritual practice of mine has become popular is that I give clues about the genre, mood, tempo, and emotional arc of these hymns, helping you place them well in the liturgical stories you’re telling each week. Whether it’s Gather the Spirit, serving as a prologue, or Find a Stillness, bringing us into prayer, or We Would Be One, bringing people together, or Wake Now My Senses, leading us to decisions about our call, or even Go Now in Peace, helping us make a transition in the story – these hymns do some work to serve the arc of worship.

Which brings me back to today’s hymn, a jazzy number by one of my favorite UU composers, Tom Benjamin.

When I first started today, I was sure my response would be one of pure disappointment, because on first singing, it’s simply a ‘yay nature’ song, and god knows we had plenty of those a year ago. Yet as I think about the things I’ve written above, I understand now that it’s not so much a ‘move the story along’ hymn but a ‘set the stage’ hymn – much like “Fugue for Tinhorns” – it tell us where we are and the character of the worship we are about to experience. And it sets a tone (upbeat and jazzy) that hopefully tells us more about what’s coming.

Praise to God and thanks we bring,
hearts rejoice and voices sing;
praises to the Glorious One;
for a year of wonder done.
Praise now for the budding green,
April’s Resurrection scene;
Praise now for the shining hours
starring all the land with flowers.

Praise now for the summer rain;
feeding day and night with grain;
praise now for the tiny seed;
holding all the word shall need;
Praise now for the garden root,
meadow grass and orchard fruit;
and for hills and valleys broad;
bring we now our thanks to God.

Praise now for the snowy rest,
falling soft on nature’s breast;
for the happy dreams of birth,
brooding in the quiet earth,
For this year of wonder done,
praise to the All glorious One;
hearts rejoice and voices sing;
praise and love and thanks we bring.

I was set to not like this hymn much and I’m still not sold on its surprisingly simple form that makes it feel (to me) a little boring, but even in my writing I have turned myself around a bit on its use. I’m not sure I would use it, but I can see how it could be used. What I hope is that what follows fits the mood as well as the theme – the service that would follow, if I were to design it, would use more upbeat, jazzy songs, maybe involve a story that feels improvised in parts, or a sermon that a conversation between music and words, perhaps include many places for voices to join together, and certainly explore the reasons why we sing praise to spring (even if it’s not actual resurrection) and what it does for our spiritual growth. If we don’t let the hymn’s work come to fruition, then it’s a weird ‘yay spring’ song and I’m not sure why it was used at all.

Thus endeth the lesson.

For readers in the US, may your Thanksgiving celebration be all you hope it will be and none of what you dread.

I AM SO EXCITED I could plotz!

Not only am I cracking the cover of the next hymnal this morning, I am singing one of my top ten favorite hymns, composed by the delightful Jason Shelton.

This venture into Singing the Journey will look a little bit different than our time with Singing the Living Tradition. First, our main resource shifts from Between the Lines to a Song Information page at the UUA website. Second, in a number of cases, I am friends with the composers, thanks to my activity in the UU Musicians Network. Hopefully some of them will offer additional insights. It will be interesting to look at the “teal hymnal”, still considered new by many congregations’ standards, yet even in 12 years since publication will already show the same aging that we noticed in STLT; things like our language expanding and our cultural understanding deepening.

But first and foremost, as always, this remains a spiritual practice, where I get to sing.

And OH how I love to sing this one. While written in 4/4, the rolling triplets call for a 12/8 feel, which brings energy and vibrancy to the piece. The soaring phrase in the chorus beckons the sun and our energy, which is – not surprisingly – intentional. As noted on the Song Information page,

This song was composed for and debuted at a morning worship service during the 2001 UUMN conference at the Mountain in Highlands, NC. As the story goes, it had been rainy and gray all week long, but when the time came to debut this song the sun came out and shone gloriously through the chapel windows. Ah, the power of music!

It is, for me, the perfect opening hymn more times than not, and I have to resist the urge to not overuse it.

Morning has come, arise and greet the day!
Dance with joy and sing a song of gladness!
The light of hope here shines upon each face.
May it bring faith to guide our journey home.

A new day dawns, once more the gift is giv’n.
Wonder fills this moment shared together.
The light of peace here shines upon each face.
May it bring faith to guide our journey home.

Open our eyes to see that life abounds;
open hearts to welcome it among us.
The light of love here shines upon each face.
May it bring faith to guide our journey home.

And okay, yes, it doesn’t do a lot more than set the scene for the day. I know I have gotten annoyed at songs that just sit there not doing any work, and I suppose a case could be made for this song being the same way, except then you’d have to toss out the Kalidasa reading we all love too – because “look to this day! For it is life, the very life of life” does the same amount of work as this song. Namely: ‘wake up! We’re here! Hurrah! Now open up and get ready for all that will come.’

And that’s plenty of work for a hymn to do, especially since it sits at the open door of this hymnal, welcoming us onto this journey too. I mean, they could not have chosen a better first song, right?

This hymn… yeah. It works for me on so many levels.

I just love it.

Despite the gloomy morning… despite the terrible news… despite this head cold… this one makes me feel like dancing.

And not just because it’s a joyful song that people dance to, but because I’m a bit delighted by this choice as the final song of this hymnal. You see, for all the seriousness of the work to assemble a hymnal, I imagine there were moments of great wit, laughter, and joy. Of course the Hymnal Commission decided to end with this traditional Jewish song, whose literal meaning is “We have brought peace to you.”

This delights me, because while I am sure there was plenty of controversy, debate, and possibly outright fights… and while there are still a fair number of controversies, debates, and outright fights, and I am sure you knew that would be the case even as you did your very best to bring peace to us.

Well played, Hymnal Commission, well played.

Hevenu shalom aleychem,
heveno shalom aleychem,
hevenu shalom aleychem,
hevenu shalom, shalom, shalom, aleychem. (Repeat)

And so we go out of Singing the Living Tradition laughing and dancing.

I was talking to friend and colleague Diana McLean yesterday about the moment I am fast approaching – the moment when I sing the last of the hymns in Singing the Living Tradition, and begin a 75-day trip through Singing the Journey. I remarked on the growth of this practice, and how it has shifted from purely my experience of singing to something of a resource.

But it’s more than that. What I realize is that in singing through this hymnal – lovingly assembled 24 years ago with a broad charge (make it more inclusive) – I have had the opportunity to see the shifts in our theologies, our congregational life, our work of justice. Twenty five years ago, the Cold War had just ended and a new, uncertain world lay ahead. The specter of the 21st century and the 50th anniversary of the Unitarian Universalist consolidation loomed in the distance. Thus, song choices to meet the moment might feel to us, well, not quite right (I think I need a good German word here because the English ones aren’t working).

But more, what I recognize is that when we hold STLT in our hands, we are holding evidence of the moral arc of the universe bending toward justice. Issues that come up for us now when we sing songs like Sit at the Welcome Table and Dear Mother-Father of Us All, and even Singing for Our Lives are evidence that we are growing, changing, becoming more and more expansive and seeking more and more justice. Sure, we have a long way to go, but wow, look how far we’ve come in such a short time.

And musically too, we’ve come far. Since STLT was published, a young UU Musicians Network has grown, encouraging new and vibrant hymns and other music; it has developed a credentialing program for music professionals; it has educated not only musicians but also clergy and lay people on the role of music in our faith. And, as I have often asserted, they have been writing our living theology. And thus, our music is shifting from being that which we inherited from our Protestant roots or the folk movement to being organically and authentically ours, reflecting who we are and who we want to be.

It’s amazing. And I don’t know that I would have gotten that had I not engaged this practice. It’s not done, of course, but it’ll be interesting to enter Singing the Journey with this in mind.

So… what about today’s hymn?

Not much, really. It’s a sweet recessional by Vincent Silliman, set to a tune from a Bach chorale. It’s light, but not quite as simple as one might expect. For me, a change to a different tune would make sense – I’d set it to Tom Benjamin’s Woodland (Down the Ages We Have Trod, among others). But that’s me. I think, given my discourse above, taking it off Bach and setting it on one of our own makes sense.

As we leave this friendly place,
love give light to ev’ry face;
may the kindness which we learn
light our hearts till we return.

Tomorrow, we sing the last song of this grey hymnal. Already. Finally.

The photo is of my well-worn hymnals, complete with bookmarks.

If you are a fan of a film or tv show with highly quotable lines, you may find yourself giving the next line almost out of habit:

“You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

“To make a long story short…”
   “TOO LATE!”

“My father hung me from a hook once..”

“Surely you don’t mean it.”
“I do. And stop calling me Shirley.”

“Darmok and Jilad at Tanagra.”
“Darmok and Jilad on the ocean.”

And so on.

We like things that repeat. It helps firm them up in our brains. The call and response connects us. It’s also a bit of a shibboleth, a password of sorts that lets us know we’re on the same page.

We see it all the time in Protestant liturgy:

May the Lord be with you.
     And also with you.

The Word of God.
     Thanks be to God.

Now as Unitarian Universalists, we don’t have much of this in most of our congregations. Our liturgies are much more freeform (despite many of them still modeling what Glen Thomas Rideout calls “Puritan Standard”). Yet for many of us, there are words or phrases that lead us almost instinctively to respond, perhaps most frequently (in my experience),

Please say with me the words for extinguishing our chalice.
     We extinguish this flame, but not the light of truth…

For me and many of us, there’s another trigger of ritual response:

And now the children may go to their classes.

If you’re in one of the hundreds of congregations that uses today’s hymn as a children’s recessional, what comes next are those first four notes – G, C, D, G – repeated as an intro to our lyrics:

Go now in peace. Go now in peace.
May the love of God surround you
everywhere, everywhere you may go.

You probably already started singing before I got to it, didn’t you?

Now I know many congregations use other songs as their recessional; Bloomington, IN, uses a verse of a different hymn each month. Others have pieces written for them. But for those congregations, the song is still part of a habitual call and response. We say we don’t like ritual, but we crave it. And this song, by Methodist composer Natalie Sleeth, is a major piece of our ritual.

I should say a thing you likely already know: the lyrics are “may the love of God” because that’s how Sleeth wrote it and required it be printed in order to give us permission. I’m sure members of the Hymnal Commission can tell more about the story, but the bottom line is that we’ve not been given permission by a living artist to change her lyrics to anything, including the popular “spirit of love.”

Go now in peace.


I don’t know what was going on at Westside UU in Seattle that day, but I love the pic of the kids under a bridge made by adults.

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!

This song is making me angry today.

Normally, I like it – a sweet song for a stewardship campaign, for mitten tree Sundays, for services about mission or honoring our ancestors or gratitude.

But today, after another white man with a history of domestic abuse and an AK-15 murdered 26 (or more?) people, including young children and adults of all ages, IN A CHURCH, this song rings as hollow as the ‘thoughts and prayers’ offered by politicians bought and sold by the National Rifle Association. (It’s helpful to start saying their full name.) What gift can we bring, especially when we can’t keep people safe in places of sanctuary? And if churches and schools aren’t safe, what can we possibly hope to bring?

Is it possible that we could ever bring gun control and background checks and real consequences for domestic violence?

I want those things, and I have been part of a majority that elected representatives who want those things (I am fortunate to live in NY-20), but I am not the one who has any influence at all beyond my vote and my occasional ‘thanks for voting in favor of my interests’ emails to Schumer, Gillibrand, and Tonko. I am not rich. I am not male. I am not employed by a powerful lobby. I’m a simple woman-identified minister with only this blog as my pulpit right now. And while I have some moral authority, that isn’t carrying much weight with the people who can bring the gifts we need most of all.

When I remember the past and ‘those who had vision’ I remember how deftly, how surgically precise the dismantling of their progress has been by those who don’t value freedom, inherent worth and dignity, religious and racial and sexual plurality. What we see today didn’t happen a year ago today, or nine years ago this week. It happened in a coordinated fashion over time, this long, hard time of change. I’m not sure I buy Parker’s assertion about the moral arc of the universe today, because I sit here weeping at how hard Pharaoh’s heart as become and how little our moral authority can do to soften it.

The worst part of all this? Yesterday’s shooting in Texas wasn’t the only public shooting yesterday. And the shooting in the church wasn’t the only disruption in a church. And today there will be more news, another death, another eruption of violence, another decision to impinge upon the rights of humans, another woman abused, another woman raped, another child trafficked, another glacier melting, another overdose taking a life, another…another… another.. another…

And then it all becomes too much. We are not made for this kind of onslaught. Our brains are not made for this. Our hearts are not made for this. There is too much, too much, too much tragedy, trauma, and horror to bear. And it comes barreling down like that thing that chased Indiana Jones, only we’re not in an action film and no one is editing for a triumphant hero and I’m not even certain who the heroes are anymore, because this stopped feeling heroic a long time ago.


I have no answers today. I have no sense of joy today. I have only anger and tears and a need to name it.

And a hymn that wants me to find joy and hope.

Ooof. Okay. Hymn info after the lyrics.

What gift can we bring, what present, what token?
What words can convey it, the joy of this day?
When grateful we come, remembering, rejoicing,
what song can we offer in honor and praise?

Give thanks for the past, for those who had vision,
who planted and watered so dreams could come true.
Give thanks for the now, for study, for worship,
for mission that bids us turn prayer into deed.

This gift we now bring, this present, this token,
these words can convey it, the joy of this day!
When grateful we come, remembering, rejoicing,
this song we now offer in honor and praise!

This hymn, by Methodist composer Jane Marshall, is intended to be a hymn of pure gratitude, as her lyrics show – even the third verse, which we omitted:

Give thanks for tomorrow, full of surprises,
for knowing whatever tomorrow may bring,
we’re given God’s word that always, forever,
we rest in God’s keeping and live in God’s love.

Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. Set to a lilting tune, also by Marshall. Joy, praise, honor, thanks!



I must begin with a shout out to my friends.

Y’all are something … yesterday I confess that the lyrics don’t click for me, and you all make an effort to help me get it. You explain on Facebook, and you even email the composer herself to get her take on it (and to introduce me to her). It’s so sweet, y’all. Once I secure permission, I’ll update yesterday’s blog with Mary’s words, but know right now that while the metaphor still doesn’t move me, I understand where it comes from and what it means to others a bit more.

And it’s got me thinking a lot about music and metaphor. I mean, music is the ultimate metaphor for our spirits; it’s why we turn to music to set a mood or express ourselves. And a gorgeous lyric can add to that mood or expression. For some reason, Cris Williamson’s lyric “filling up and spilling over / it’s an endless waterfall” as a metaphor for the ups and downs of life, or emma’s revolution’s lyric “we’re all swimming to the other side” as a metaphor for our collective journeys are coming to mind as song metaphors that I find meaningful and delightful (and surely has nothing to do with the deluge of rain we experienced overnight, right?).

And that metaphor doesn’t work for everyone, as beautiful as those lyrics are, as beautiful as those songs are. If we all got everything, if we all drew meaning from everything, then nothing would be special. And if this spiritual practice has taught me anything, it’s that we need many different songs with many different melodies, metaphors, and moods – especially in our congregations. We don’t know who will be ministered to by the song we despise, or who will need the comfort offered in a song we find insipid, or will feel their spirits lift by lyrics we don’t quite get.

So when I said yesterday I’m okay with not understanding yesterday’s lyrics, I meant that not just as resignation or defeat but as being really okay, knowing a gorgeous melody carries with it, for some, a deeply moving metaphor.

Unlike today, where there is really no metaphor to distill.

Morning has come. Night is away.
Rise with the sun and welcome the day.

It’s a great little morning round, one I’ve known for a long time but don’t know how. Sung well, it rings out like bells. Sung annoyingly, it’s the song that makes you want to pull the covers over your head.

But I like this anonymously offered round and would consider using it (and others) as a call to worship as well as a prelude. And then you should sing Jason Shelton’s hymn Morning Has Come. And then maybe Morning Has Broken and Morning Hangs a Signal…

Okay, maybe enough with the morning.

But y’all are really sweet. Thanks.


Friends, I am running out of things to say about these little rounds.

This one – another song of unknown origin – is sweet and very pretty when fully sung. Which is a sentence I have typed before and I fear will type again.

You see, the thing is – the rounds themselves are good and different and by and large fun to sing with a group. But when there is no source information, no complex lyric, no deep memories, well…. I don’t have much to write about.

Sing and rejoice.
Sing and rejoice.
Let all things living now
sing and rejoice.

I will say this one reminds me a bit of graces we sang at Girl Scout camp, and maybe it is, because I wouldn’t be surprised at all to discover Unitarian Universalists at camp.

It’s a good one – don’t get me wrong.

There’s just not much to say.


EDIT: I originally posted a DST ending pic but was reminded that it’s NEXT weekend. Whoops.