This may be one of the most elegantly crafted songs in our hymnals.

I mean no offense to other composers who read this, or to those songs that are also beloved. But there is something absolutely wondrous in this composition by Carolyn McDade.

On its surface, the song is another earth based song of praise and wonder. And a quick listen to the tune suggests it might be an old melody from the British Isles. And on their own, that’s plenty. There’s a great deal of gorgeousness contained within, expressing McDade’s vision of interdependence. As quoted on the UUA Song Information page, McDade writes:

“Earth shakes out a mantle of green—each blade of grass true to the integrity within, yet together with others is the rise of spring from winter’s urging. Our coming is with the grass—the common which persists, unexalted, but with the essence of life. Our humanness, our rhythms and dreams, the faith which nurtures our ardent love and hope for life—all this we share with earth community, of which we are natural and connected beings.”

This song is certainly that:

My blood doth rise in the roots of yon oak, her sap doth run in my veins.
Boundless my soul like the open sky where the stars forever have lain.
Where the stars, where the stars, where the stars forever have lain.

My hands hold the weavings of time without end, my sight as deep as the sea.
Beating, my heart sounds the measures of old, that of love’s eternity.
That of love, that of love, that of love’s eternity.

I feel the tides as they answer the moon, rushing on a far distant sand.
Winging my song is the wind of my breast and my love blows over the land.
And my love, and my love, and my love blows over the land.

My foot carries days of the old into new, our dreaming shows us the way.
Wondrous our faith settles deep in the earth, rising green to bring a new day.
Rising green, rising green, rising green to bring a new day.

But what’s elegant is the way the tune and lyric paint a feeling, an image, a texture, a sense of movement. It begins at the end of the first line of each verse… “sap doth run in my veins”… “sight as deep as the sea”… “rushing on a far distant sand”…”dreaming shows us the way” – each of those phrases evoking something bigger than ourselves, held open with a dotted half note, not ended quickly on the quarter note you were expecting. And then the next phrase soars up a fourth, an arpeggio in the bass clef leading the way, opening up the melody almost like a miracle, with “boundless” and “beating” and “winging” and “wondrous” giving language to that moment of opening and arrival. In the singing and listening, you can hear a sense of hope and release and movement, as the phrase settles back into the notes the verse began with, almost like a wave, or a sudden breeze, or an epiphany.

It is so elegantly crafted. I am in awe.

I should note that I’ve never used this as a congregational song, only as a solo, so I don’t know how easily it’s picked up. I’d like to think this one isn’t too hard, and I hope it’s not taken too slowly or too quickly – or people will miss the beauty that McDade’s piece evokes.


This is one of those mornings when the to-do list seems more important than this practice. In fact, I did several things before sitting down to sing, which is not typical. Usually, I feed the cat, put on the coffee, and open the hymnal to sing while the holy liquid of all existence brews in order to bring me life. Then I sit at the computer and reflect.

This morning, I also did some dishes, wrapped my office manager’s Christmas present, and prepared for a weekly spiritual offering I do at the local hospital. And I gazed at the next items on the list before thinking, oh, I should get to the hymn before I forget.

So here I am, having finally gotten to the hymn. And I admit, I was pretty distracted as I began – grateful to Small Church Music for a lovely organ rendition of this piece by Haydn, so I wasn’t working hard to learn it. I was about half with the hymn, half still thinking about what’s next on the list.

And then somewhere around the end of the second verse, I began to notice the lyrics – “our hearts soar high up on the breeze of songs the spirit longs to sing.”

Wow. I mean, just read these lyrics:

The wordless mountains bravely still,
the ground below us firm and free,
the gentle quilt of field and hill,
shall grant us solid dignity.

With breathless wind through leafless trees,
and gasp of currents on the wing,
our hearts soar high up on the breeze
of songs the spirit longs to sing.

The crimson flame of summer sun,
the glow of hearth on winter’s eve,
refining fire shines through the One
whose passions lead us to believe.

The slow and gracious ocean deep,
and raindrops gathering one by one,
feed well-springs in our souls to keep
for times when tears like rivers run.

The earth and water, fire and air,
the elements of wondrous grace,
the glory of creation rare
encircles us in its embrace.

I know I have previously complained about all the ‘yay nature, but it doesn’t go anywhere’ hymns. But this one – while in some respects a litany, really moves. It isn’t just a “look, nature’s cool, and we should be moved by it/in awe of it/shamed by it” (I still growl about that one). Rather, this one gives us something deeper. I am not sure what that something is – maybe it’s more of that theology that invites us in to be a part of creation, not just observers of it – “the glory of creation rare encircles us in its embrace.” We see ourselves not only reflected but also a part of nature.

The tune – it’s Haydn. Eighteenth century pomp and majesty is pretty compelling for symphonies, concertos, cantatas, and hymns – and this is no exception. When I first listened, I thought “this is too Episcopalian for us” (sorry, Episco–Pals) – but once the marriage of tune and lyric woke me up so I would take notice, I realize how perfect it is. These lyrics want both quiet contemplation and a bit of majesty and awe.

This one works for me today. I’m glad I finally paid attention.