This song calls to us: “Come! Let’s be singing!”

And what shall we sing?

“Sing alleluia!”

That’s it. That’s the song. In English and in Hebrew.

Hava nashirah. Shirah alleluia!
Hava nashirah. Shirah alleluia!
Hava nashirah. Shirah alleluia!

Come, let’s be singing. Sing alleluia!
Come, let’s be singing. Sing alleluia!
Come, let’s be singing. Sing alleluia!

It is written in three parts that can be sung as a round  – or ideally a canon, which is great because one part is quite low and one part is quite high. It all seems simple, except the beauty of rounds is the complexity that comes when the parts blend. This one is quite gorgeous and joyful.

I don’t have much more to say…it’s origins are unknown but its presence is cheering.


As frequent readers know. there are many days … sometimes weeks… in this practice when the hymn is so opposed to the events/mood/weather of the day that it seems almost ridiculous. Christmas in May… morning songs after the election… happy spring in a snowstorm…

Today is most assuredly NOT one of those days.

Our round, a traditional Hebrew folk round based on Psalm 133:1, names my mood and the experience here, as we enter the final few hours of our UUMA chapter retreat. The NRSV translates the verse as “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”

And so, when someone asked what today’s hymn was, and I started singing, everyone in the room at that moment sang along with me. And it felt warm and loving and good, but most of all, it felt true. I’m so impressed with the joy, grace, and connection I’ve been experiencing with this new (to me) group of colleagues, and I’m feeling so at home among them. I know some of it’s a bit about being back in upstate New York, but a lot of it’s about being with these people. It is so good to have spent the last couple of days dwelling together with them.

Hineh mah tov umah nayim.
Shevel aheem gam yahad.
Hineh mah tov umah nayim.
Shevel aheem gam yahad.
Hineh mahtov shevet aheem gam yahad.
Hineh mahtov shevet aheem gam yahad.

How good it is and how pleasant
for people to dwell together.
How good it is and how pleasant
for people to dwell together.
Good and pleasant, people in peace together.
Good and pleasant, people in peace together.

The English verse doesn’t scan well for me, but the truth is, I never use it. There’s something just wonderful about singing this ancient psalm in its original language together.

Anyway – I need to spend more time with my colleagues. Enjoy your day, because I know I am!


As the Gish gallop of terrible politics, violence, natural disasters, and a shocking lack of compassion continues to fill our news feeds, we turn now to this canon by Methodist composer Natalie Sleeth.

Whose lyrics, when translated from the Latin, mean “let us be joyful today.”

Joy is hard to find some days – harder than hope, I think. But…and I’m just musing a bit here… I think joy is part of what’s at the heart of compassion. I am not sure I can explain it well right now; it’s an idea that’s just occurred to me as I started singing this song. But there’s something to it… something to joy, and hope, and relief that’s all woven together.

Anyway…things to think about as we sing this joyful song in the midst of these hard days.

Gaudeamus, gaudeamus, gaudeamus hodie.
Gaudeamus, gaudeamus hodie.

gaudeamus hodie.

Gaudeamus, gaudeamus,
gaudeamus hodie, hodie.

And if after singing it you still need some help to touch joy, watch these kids sing the song (I should note that while some of the kids are nearly emotionless, others more than make up for it and it’s fun to watch them):

Gaudeamus hodie – Natalie Sleeth from Music@BelPres on Vimeo.

I feel like I should be writing something elegant and insightful and perhaps a bit humorous about Taizé , about glorias, about chants and canons. Just yesterday I spoke of how this practice has never (except around the election) felt like a chore. And truly, the practice itself – singing – has never felt that way.

But some days the blogging – a practice I set up and an expectation I developed – feels less for me and more for you. That’s not a bad thing; our spiritual practices at their best lead us to turn back outward after having turned inward. I love that a personal thing has become a public ministry. I love the research, the thinking, the musing, the writing. I love the comments, even if the discussion gets heated sometimes. I love the friendships I’ve developed because of it and all that I have learned. I love it.

And today, all I want to do is sing this Gloria, over and over, Taizé style (because it is a Taizé piece by Jacques Berthier, after all) and sod the research and musicology and lit crit and theological discussion.

Gloria, gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, gloria, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Yeah. I’m not gonna write about any of that stuff and just play this YouTube video that has really no good visuals but a gorgeous audio to sing along with.

Yay! Another alleluia! Today’s is made better for two reasons:

First, my colleague and friend Amy Zucker Morgenstern wrote this in the comments for yesterday’s Alleluia:

The word doesn’t really mean “praise the lord.” It means “praise Yah,” one of the many Hebrew euphemisms for God, since God’s name is unpronounceable. Some of them do translate to Lord (the Hebrew Adon, particularly) but Yah really doesn’t. Hallel = praise, yah = that unnamable power we usually call God or Lord or The Holy One. Isn’t that great?

Second, the round is based on the Alleluia section of Mozart’s motet “Exsultate, jubilate” and is one of my favorite pieces from that era. Have a listen to the original piece, mastered here by Chinese-Australian soprano Shu Cheen Yu:

High praise indeed. (pun intended.)

The lyrics are simple. I hope you can follow along…

Alleluia, alleluia; alleluia, alleluia.
Alleluia, alleluia; alleluia, alleluia.
Alleluia, alleluia.

The round is simpler to sing, of course, with three parts more simply scored. But when it comes together… well, it isn’t Shu Cheen Yu, but it’s pretty joyful.

So – I can’t be the only one who sees Tom Hulce when I think Mozart, right? This motet doesn’t appear in the film or stage versions of Amadeus, but it’s still the image that came to mind.

I love alleluias.

Sure, the word means “praise the Lord” and I’m not big on the word “Lord”, but as a word of praise, it’s gorgeous and lyrical and pretty much no matter how its sung, I am in. This one’s in a pretty round from an unknown source, one that I wish all choirs had in their back pocket and could pull out at a moment’s notice to punctuate a part of the service as needed. A sermon on hope? This. A reading that opens us up? This. Easter? Well, of course this.

Alleluia. Alleluia.
Amen. Amen.

And the truth is, there’s not much more to say. This is lovely piece that will get stuck in my brain for the rest of the morning.

The image is what came up when I typed “alleluia” into the Pixabay search bar. Told you this section could get weird…

Last week when I started into this doxology section, I ran to the internet to find out a bit more about doxologies – where they come from, why they are used, etc. Of course, I stopped by Wikipedia to see what they had to say, and I discovered a section on Unitarianism. In the text as I found it, the earnest author listed this text, from Isaac Watts, as THE Unitarian Universalist doxology and Old Hundredth as THE tune.

That says two things to me – first, that the section needed to be edited, which I did. But second, that this is very common as a doxology (or as my home congregation calls it, an Affirmation of Faith). In my experience, if a congregation sings a doxology, it is this one – although much like spoken covenants, words do change a little; I never got used to the alterations made by the Southold congregation – their second line is ‘let words of hope…’ and their third line is ‘let joyful songs of praise be sung’.

But like I said, this is very common as a doxology, at least in the congregations I have been in.

From all that dwell below the skies
let songs of hope and faith arise;
let peace, good will on earth be sung
through every land, by every tongue.

The lyrics are an abridgment of a two-verse hymn by the very prolific Isaac Watts, a late 17th/early 18th century English hymn composer. We know him from from  Joy to the World. 

Here is Watts’ text:

From all that dwell below the skies,
Let the Creator’s praise arise;
Let the Redeemer’s name be sung
Through ev’ry land by ev’ry tongue.

Eternal are Thy mercies Lord;
Eternal truth attends Thy Word;
Thy praise shall sound from shore to shore
Till suns shall rise and set no more.

Obviously, that won’t do for most of us – even if we are UU Christian, the idea of Redeemer is complicated by our Universalism.

But somewhere along the way – and the names are now lost to history – someone thought the sentiment of Luke 2:14 – “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” – would be a nice replacement, and so we get peace and good will on earth. The rest then is just poetry.

Now I will say there is nothing in our version that I object to, and it’s quite familiar to me. But I am not sure this is my favorite of the bunch – and I’m not sure why. I am not entirely sure I HAVE a favorite. I wonder if what I need are new doxologies, new songs of praise to stir my well-worn heart.

This one seems very familiar…

No, I’ve not sung it before, which surprises me a little. If I had, I hope I’d sung it to Vom Himmel Hoch, because that seems the best pairing to my ear. But it seems very familiar. They certainly are a sentiment that makes sense to me – one I’ve certainly preached before.

Rejoice in love we know and share,
in love and beauty everywhere;
rejoice in truth that makes us free,
and in the good that yet shall be.

Seems more familiar in the singing… but I turn my attention to the facts: these lyrics are by Charles Lyttle (with an abridgement by Vincent Silliman and Edwin Palmer). I wrote about him recently, I recall, and find that yes, he wrote the lyrics to Praise God.

Which are remarkably the same.

Seriously. Click the link, then come back here.

::::: hums ‘Girl from Ipanema’::::::

You’re back! See what I mean? It’s almost like Silliman and Palmer took out the God and fleshed out the words to fill the meter. They certainly aren’t as theist – even though Lyttle’s original lyric was meant to bridge the theist/humanist gap – taking away God makes this much more palatable to many of our congregants. But even for this theist, I dig this lyric a lot. Sure, it’s aspirational. Sure, there’s a lot of love lost between members of our congregations, and that work of building beloved community often needs to be done inside our walls as well as outside – but I love the aspirational thought that love and truth are what ground us and that good is what we are working toward.

Yep. It’s a winner.

Even though I know you’re walking away from this not humming the hymn but rather humming ‘Girl from Ipanema” – which you can’t blame on me, but you can blame on the Bosa Nova.

You’re welcome.


Yes, that’s Ipanema Beach, in Rio de Janeiro.


I’m beginning to wonder why congregations only sing one doxology throughout the year, year after year. Is it because of habit? Because in Protestant churches that sing “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” that’s how it’s done? Or because that’s one more thing the minister and music director have to think about?

I admit, as the minister at First Universalist Southold, it never dawned on me to change their doxology or even switch it up now and then. Once as a lay worship leader in Saratoga, we did it for a seventh principle service, but we made a big deal about the change for the one week.

Yet day by day, I’m discovering beautiful lyrics (and even ones I’m not in love with but still appreciate) that, while not appropriate for every week, would be great for some weeks. Like this one, another anonymous verse:

In greening lands begins the song
which deep in human hearts is strong.
In cheerful strains your voices raise,
to fill the whole spring world with praise!

I admit that this might be insensitive to use right now, given the fires out west and the lack of green in hurricane-ravaged areas. But that’s not always the case, and what a lovely springtime doxology to sing. This one feels right to me in Old Hundredth, although I admit I’m probably not giving Vom Himmel Hoch enough credit, as I’m not as familiar with it.

Anyway. Maybe it’s time we think about the doxology in our services in a different way – even if we never let the liturgical element go, maybe we switch up the words?

It’s 24 hours since nearly five dozen people died and nearly 600 were wounded by a single gunman wreaking terror in Las Vegas. And I still don’t have words, only the heaviness in my heart that is both sad and outraged.

That is, I suppose, why the Universe keeps doing this: putting cheerful, aspirational, hopeful songs in front of me when things seem at their worst. And I offer the Universe that annoyed chuckle that says, “I see what you did there, dammit.”

But then I started to think about personal tragedies that leave us sad and/or outraged, things that only one or two of us might bring into the sanctuary on a Sunday morning… and I wonder what it feels like to them when we start a service with a song like this. It must feel like you’re out of phase, and I suppose it can feel like either an invitation or an affront. I mean, it’s peppy and happy and just so damn….joyful.

Now let us sing, sing, sing                      Sing to the power of the faith within.
Now let us sing, sing, sing                      Sing to the power of the faith within.
Lift up your voice, be not afraid;             Lift up your voice, be not afraid;
sing to the power of the faith within.     sing to the power of the faith within.

Sing to the power of the hope within …

Sing to the power of the love within. …

Sing to the power of the joy within. …

What I hope, however, is that the penultimate line – “lift up your voice, be not afraid” – might offer some release.

Because while I am still sad and outraged, singing this (albeit with one part in my head), and singing “be not afraid” did change me a little. I took it slowly at first, with a quiet and almost contemplative feel; and yes, there is something to the power of the faith within.” and the hope, and the love. By the time I got to the joy, I was… okay. Not cured; nothing short of going back in time can cure this. But I was more okay than when I started.

May we all find things in the coming days to help us be okay so that we can do the work that our faith calls us to.