I want to like this one.

Composer Joyce Poley is one of the sweetest human beings I ever met. She was open, generous, and kind to us UU Musicians Network conference newcomers. She had amazing insights when it came to song leading. And there is a sweetness to the music she writes.

And there is an earnestness to the lyrics; they want to be good and inclusive and expansive. They want to paint a picture of beloved community. There are some great lines, too – “we see our faces in each other’s eyes” and “trust the wisdom in each of us” are fantastic nuggets of insight.

But the truth is, I don’t like this song. And not just because of the grammatical oddity of “our heart”.

I don’t like it because it’s bad theology.

When our heart is in a holy place,
When our heart is in a holy place,
We are bless’d with love and amazing grace,
When our heart is in a holy place.

When we trust the wisdom in each of us,
Ev’ry color ev’ry creed and kind,
And we see our faces in each other’s eyes,
Then our heart is in a holy place.


When we tell our story from deep inside,
And we listen with a loving mind,
And we hear our voices in each other’s words,
Then our heart is in a holy place.


When we share the silence of sacred space,
And the God of our Heart stirs within,
And we feel the power of each other’s faith,
Then our heart is in a holy place.


At least it’s bad Universalist theology, because it’s creating conditions where none should apply. I’m reminded of this from Hosea Ballou:

“Your child has fallen into the mire, and its body and its garments are defiled. You cleanse it, and array it in clean robes. The query is, Do you love your child because you have washed it? Or, Did you wash it because you loved it?”

This song… this sweet song written by this sweet person… suggests that we are only loved, only holy, when we have been behaving in open and expansive ways. “We are blessed with love and amazing grace when our heart is in a holy place” reads the lyric. No. Just… no. We are blessed with love and amazing grace because our hearts are always and already holy places. Sure, we should do these other things, but the conditional nature of this lyric is just… wrong.

I’m sorry, Joyce, I don’t like your song.

There’s a terrible film from 1999 called The 13th Warrior featuring Antonio Banderas playing a 10th century Arab ambassador to northern Europe; he somehow finds himself included in a group of Vikings setting out to deal with a threat in a distant Viking land.  At the start of this quest, Banderas understands no Norse and can only watch events unfold. But as time goes on, he occasionally picks up a word here or there. The filmmaker’s one good idea in an otherwise awful movie was having the occasional English word pop up in the dialogue of the Vikings…then a few more, then finally the entire group is speaking English, showing that Banderas’ character understands the language now.

It’s a remarkable idea, the assimilation of language, and it was beautifully revealed despite the otherwise violent and plot-hole-filled nature of the movie. And I resonate with it, because while I studied Latin in college, anything I know of other languages I assimilated through Sesame Street, food, and music. I mention this, because while I don’t speak Spanish, I can read just enough of it – and the Latin, of course – to have a general sense of the song’s meaning. But more, I find it falls on the ear more beautifully and feels rich and authentic without even the most elegant of English translations.

Now I say all this because I am a bit embarrassed that I don’t know a second language and I should. But I also say this because I think we need to be more open to singing songs like this in English speaking congregations, with the Spanish lyrics, because given repetition, practice, and a helping hand, the lyrics will begin to make sense and the language will being to seep in, bit by bit. And maybe we can get outside ourselves a bit, too.

It helps to have a great song like this – great to me, anyway. Singer-songwriter (and poet, painter, and ecologist) Salvador Cardenal Barquero (who died at age 50 about seven years ago) wrote beautiful and rich melodies, making him an extremely popular figure in Nicaragua and Central America.

Revisa tu corazón
Para hallar el amor en un rincón.
Pero busca el amor.
Ni placer ni passion.
El amor lo que hace al otro bien

Busca el amor en ti.
Se multiplica si lo repartís.
Busca el amor en ti.
Sólo él que ama puede ser feliz.
Busca el amor en ti.
Se multiplica si lo repartís.
Busca el amor en ti.
Sólo él que ama puede ser feliz.
Busca el amor en ti, en ti.

Registra tu camaleón.
Cuando cambia el color del corazón
Y te estalla la flor.
Un pétalo del sol.
El amor lo que hace al otro bien


English translation:

Examine that heart of yours,
As you look for the love on your high shelf,
Past the pleasure and passion
for your own self,
for the love that’s reaching someone else.

Seek out the love in you,
And find the joy that comes to those who care.
Seek out the love in you.
It only grows whenever it is shared.
Seek out the love in you,
And find the joy that comes to those who care.
Seek out the love in you.
It only grows whenever it is shared.
Seek out the love in you, in you.

Your heart’s a chameleon,
Ever open to change like any flower.
Spreading out for the sun,
petals bursting with power.
To be love that’s reaching someone else.


I love the sentiment, too. As our UUA Song Information page says,

This song sums up the composer’s simple personal theology. Salvador Cardenal Barquero is a fifth generation Nicaraguan. He studied to be a Catholic priest as a teenager. He, as many of his generation, answered the call for regime change by forming Duo Guardabarranco with his sister Katia. His original songs explore the need for love. He is a devotee of evolving spiritual thought. He has set music to words of St Francis of Assisi, Rabindranath Tagore, and the Sanscrit Vedas (Srimad Bhaghavatam). His plaintive song Cualquier Hombre (Anyone) has poor people calling to God in all different names and “not asking for leftovers.”

Yes. Yes.

We need love, because it’s the only thing that works.

Gentle readers, there is a chance I will let you down today.

You see, I am feeling utterly and totally uninterested in where this hymn came from, who wrote it, and why we sing it to this tune.

Which is kinda funny, because that’s exactly what my mom would have me do: activate another part of my brain and lose focus on the part that’s dwelling in sadness. It may explain why I struggled so much with my depression as a youth; where this worked for her, it didn’t always work for me, and it wasn’t until well into adulthood that I was able to name it and experience it more fully.

But the truth is, one week out from the tenth anniversary of her death, I am finding it hard this morning to do anything but mourn as I sing this hymn. Partly because it’s a hymn specifically for this purpose, but partly because there are things in here Mom has said to me, almost verbatim without really knowing the hymn, about death and mourning. I remember her complimenting the country pastor who conducted my father’s funeral, because he had talked about how the dead live on in us and our stories, which was something she believed was true. And she was so fascinated with all we were learning about space and physics. Once we watched A Brief History of Time, and she spent the rest of the weekend having those deep thought moments as she tried to wrap her head around black holes (it was something that continued to come up every now and then, because it continued to flummox her).

This hymn seems like it could have been written by her – and certainly beloved by her.

Let hope and sorrow now unite
to consecrate life’s ending.
And praise good friends now gone from sight,
though grief and loss are rending.
The story in a well-loved face,
and years and days our thoughts retrace,
are treasures worth repeating.

With faith, or doubt, or open mind
we whisper life’s great question.
The ebb and flow of space and time
surpass our small perception;
yet knowledge grows with joyful gains
and finds out wonders far more strange
than hopes of resurrection.

And here’s the truth: music has the power to do a lot of things; it helps us rejoice, consider, release, meditate, explain, laugh, and yes… mourn. I am not upset that this came along when it did – it’s probably right on time, and it has allowed me to share more about this remarkable woman who raised me.

Thanks, Universe.

Picture is of my mother as a young woman, probably around age 25.



I really don’t have much to say, because I don’t know how I feel about this one. (Also, I’m squeezing this reflection into a day full of fall house cleaning.)

What I can tell you is the lyrics, by Sarah Flower Adams (of Abide with Me fame), set to the Charleston tune (which you may know from There’s a Wideness in Your Mercy), is lovely and well matched.

Part in peace! The day before us.
Praises sing for life and light.
Are the shadows lengthning o’er us?
Bless thy care who guards the night.

Part in peace! With deep thanksgiving,
rend’ring as we homeward tread,
love and service to the living,
gentle mem’ry to the dead.

Part in peace! Our voices raising,
in thy presence always be.
This the worship and the praising,
bringing peace to you and me.

I’m not sure I would use it for a memorial or funeral, but I would use it as a closing for a Memorial Day or All Souls service.

Anyway… not much from me today, as it didn’t feel as much like spiritual practice and more like duty today. And I guess that happens. I look forward to your reflections in comments.

“And I’ll bring you hope, when hope is hard to find.”

We sing this incredible line in Come Sing a Song with Me, which we have acknowledged is simultaneously insipid and profound. And while that one isn’t today’s hymn, it is the line that sings over and over in my head even after singing today’s piece.

You see, yesterday’s lament was part of a greater day of grief, sorrow, and anger. Grief over more lives needlessly lost; sorrow over the many burdens family, friends, and colleagues bear; and anger over the shocking lack of compassion and human decency that has led to these moments – too many moments.

By evening’s end, I had found myself in a hole. I’ll let Leo McGarry explain:

My shout was a simple Facebook post that read “I’m pretty low on hope right now. What’s bringing you hope today?” and at last count 37 people jumped in the hole with me, and shared short and long lists of hope, including a photo of a late autumn rose.

Then this morning, my mentor tweeted this blessing:

And then I opened the hymnal and found more hope, in a beautiful, lyrical version of Luke 22:19-20, a version that meets my own Eucharistic theology and which holds my faith for me when I can’t find it.

This do in memory of me;
eat now this broken bread.
This is my life from death set free,
here on my table spread.

This do in memory of me;
drink now this cup, I said.
This shows my love for all to see,
here on my table spread.

We praise your living memory,
remembering all you said.
Your words and life have set us free,
here through your table spread.

I’m not sure I am whole again or full of hope again, but I am grateful for those who are willing to sing songs of hope and faith back to me when I can’t find it myself grateful for those willing to jump into the hole with me, grateful for those who share sacred moments and holy rituals with me, grateful for those who share a rose with me.

Because I will regret not putting this info here, I’ll share some musical details: Our tune was written by a Yorkshireman, Gordon Slater, who became a church organist and conductor after serving in the first World War. As the Reformed Church in North America’s Psalter Hymnal Handbook notes, the tune was first published in Songs of Praise for Boys and Girls (1930) and named for the church where Slater first served as organist. It’s a lovely and somewhat meditative piece, which works well for our lyrics, by UCC minister and professor Wayne Bradley Robinson.


I was about to write something quick about this quick little song, and then go on with my day.

I was going to write something like “how sweet and familiar this is” and something else about how some congregations accept the offering by singing this.

And then I was going to add a quick note about the composers, Joseph and Nathan Segal, and be done with it.

Until I started learning more. And found not only a heartbreaking story but also something interesting about the version we sing.

First, the heartbreak: the Segal brothers are rabbis – singing rabbis, in fact – who trace their lineage as singing rabbis back 12 generations. They performed a spiritual and often humorous show for decades, until a car accident in Jamaica in 1988 left Joseph critically injured; eight years after the accident, it was news that he would join his brother Nathan at the congregation Nathan served. Since then, it appears Nathan has continued his work as a spiritual leader, healer, and musician – sadly, nothing on his website says anything about Joseph other than providing MP3s of the songs they recorded together. In fact, along with those recordings, there is just one video of them together from a concert they did in Woodstock in the late 1960s.

But it was from watching a clip from that where I learned we aren’t singing the song correctly. Listening to the MP3 reveals the same. Now I suspect the hymnal commission didn’t have benefit of these recordings at the time and learned the song by rote, but it’s interesting that not only do we have a different version, but apparently Nathan himself sang it differently over time, based on a later solo recording.

From you I receive,
to you I give,
together we share,
and from this we live.

So this brings up the question around folk music: is it necessary to sing it in an original fashion, or is it okay to change it as we learn it? I think about the Facebook discussion around The Earth, Water, Fire, Air – a song that many of us learned very differently yet seems to be connected to the same origins as the one in our hymnal. Is it the same song? Different now because of the changes? Is it like languages that have the same root but a thousand years goes by and suddenly the guy from Paris can’t understand the gal from Barcelona?

I don’t know. But I’d like to relearn the song in 4/4 time with a different final phrase and see what happens.

Art by Nathan Segal.

This morning I am grateful for Google’s proximate search capabilities.

You see, I typed in the title of today’s hymn, a sweet traditional Jewish round, and it corrected me in that totally not shaming way Google has, by sending me results with ‘chaverim’ instead of the more phonetic ‘havayreem’.

It also presented me with a variety of YouTube videos of the song so that I could sing it in a round with other voices.

Shalom, havayreem!
Shalom, havayreem!
Shalom, shalom!
L’hitraot, l’hitraot,
shalom, shalom.

Finally, Google helped me with translations. At its basic, the lyrics translate as “Peace friend,
’till we meet again!” However, there is a version sung by children that extends the language into this English translation:

Goodbye, my friends!
Be safe, my friends!
Have peace, have peace!

‘Til we meet again,
‘Til we meet again,
Have peace, have peace.

What a delightful benediction or postlude this is. So warm and loving. What a blessing.

Thanks, Google.

In my last year of seminary, I and five of my most creative friends co-created and produced a Broadway revue that told the story of the book of Exodus.

We began our work with Biblical preparation led by Old Testament scholar David M. Carr: not just reading and exegeting the text but also examining the history of interpretation of the text. We learned how passages from Exodus were used to forward an idea, connect a current struggle to an old one, and in the case of the US Civil War, used by both sides to suggest God was on their side. Reading about interpretation helped us in our own, as we found ourselves wanting to explore the text’s relationship with violence, oppression, and women. As a result, we created a show that humanized the Egyptians, leaned into the stories of Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter, and reacted with compassion at the moments of violence.

This came to mind this morning as I explored this song online, and found almost nothing about the song itself but plenty about the verses from which it is formed.

And ev’ry one ‘neath a vine and fig tree
shall live in peace and unafraid. (Repeat)

And into plowshares turn their swords;
nations shall learn war no more. (Repeat)

The texts, from prophets Micah and Isaiah, put together like this are very anti-war. Yet what I have discovered  at the site Teaching American History is that the first verse especially (Micah 4:4) was such a favorite of George Washington that it not only became – in his use – a representation of what the colonies should experience after the Revolution, but also a call to arms, a ‘let’s get this thing over with so we can go back to our farms.’ It was quoted to give depth to the more defiant ‘don’t tread on me’ – a feeling of hope, of being free not just to go back to one’s land but to be free from an oppressive government. The passage was not so much an ant-war sentiment as a ‘let’s fight, let’s win, and then let’s go home’ sentiment. And it was such a popular image, it appeared in art and even embroidered samples (such as our image today).

Adding on the Isaiah text for this song from the Jewish tradition does distill the let’s fight sentiment, although it acknowledges war in the present even as we hope for no war in the future.


I don’t know that I thought much about this one before today, and while I find it full of anti-war sentiment, it also feels very full of sadness, as the peace being longed for is hard-won and may never come. It doesn’t rally me but rather feels like a song of lament. Maybe this is me in my present context – realizing how long we have been at war, realizing that in American history, we’ve been at war or in conflict nearly the entire time, realizing how much violence we have normalized within and beyond our borders. For us, to sit under the vine and fig tree unafraid is a pipe dream akin to Psalm 137 – living  in terrible circumstances, remembering not with hope but with tears.

Sorry to bring you all down today – this is where my thoughts are as we continue to fight the wars of oppression at home without much recognition of how worn and inured to the violence we have become. My heart is so heavy with the weight of sorrow I can’t remember any other way. And while I can sing this song, I can’t imagine it ever coming to pass.

This song is my lament today.

The embroidered image, Chairback-Vine and Fig Tree, is from the Deerfield Society of Blue and White Needlework.

Programming Note: I’ve added a lovely piece from Mary Grigolia about her song I Know This Rose Will Open, from an email exchange we had, about the origins and meaning of that song. After you read this, go to that entry and check it out!

There are days in this practice when the little chalice next to a name at the bottom of the page sends me down a rabbit hole. Like today, where I saw a chalice next to the name Edvard Grieg, the Norwegian composer who arranged this folk melody for hymn singing.

Grieg was a Unitarian?

A few bio sites revealed few clues, although one references his leaving the Lutheran ministry after a series of tragedies and a sense of his musical creativity being strangled. But it took our own resource, the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biographies, to unearth the Unitarian connection:

Charles Harding, vice-president of the Birmingham [England] Festival, and his wife, Ada, members of the Unitarian Old Meeting Church in Birmingham, introduced Grieg to other Unitarians there, including members of the Kenrick family. Shortly before he died Grieg wrote, “During a visit to England in 1888 I was attracted to Unitarian views, and in the nineteen years that have passed since then I have held to them. All the sectarian forms of religion that I have been exposed to since have not succeeded in making any impression on me.”

Like most Unitarians of his time Grieg believed in God, the goodness of God, and the power of Jesus as an example—”Christ was filled by God as no one else known to me, living or dead, in the family of man.” He disbelieved in original sin. “Why should innocent people suffer for the sins of their forefathers?” he asked. “I think that the moral pain of the soul, which results from our bad deeds, as well as from the good we neglected to do, makes a Hell as effective as I can possibly imagine.”

In 1889 the Griegs were impressed by the ex-Anglican Stopford Brooke, who preached at Unitarian pulpits in London. “What a man! [his wife] Nina says, and it is true,” Edvard wrote. “A big, splendid, sparkling personality full of fire and power. We talked about this and that: about Unitarianism and socialism . . . and I daresay he felt just as I do.” Grieg thought some Unitarians were “some of the noblest people I know.” Like them he believed in separation of church and state and in a tolerant attitude towards others—”for what we don’t know, we don’t know.”

Grieg’s religious attitude is reflected in the independence of musical thought that led him, as Liszt advised, to “hold to your course.” Broad in musical appreciation as well as in religious scope, he admired the music of composers, such as Brahms, whose styles were quite different from his own, and valued the musical inheritance from peasant culture, considering it not primitive, but advanced. He stood against conservatism in both religion and musical culture. Sickly from his youth, brooding on the passing of his baby daughter and of his parents, Grieg worked out his peace with death through his Unitarian faith, by connecting himself with the Norwegian people and their mountainous landscape, by putting his faith in nature as a whole, and through the life-affirming exuberance of his music.

I had no idea. I’ve always loved his music – beyond the all-too-familiar “Morning Mood” from Peer Gynt – and into some of his other settings. Until today I had not heard this song, Den Store Hvide Flok, and it does not disappoint.

Nor do the lyrics, the first verse of the poem “Auguries of Innocence” by English poet William Blake:

To see the world in a grain of sand,
and a heaven in a wildflower,
hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
and eternity in an hour.


It’s a song I’d use as an introit, or as a sung response to the right sermon. In fact, I can think back to a dozen services where this would have been perfect…. and I may have to write another one just to use it.

Simply gorgeous.


Image found at Deviant Art, by user Devil-Grades.

First – apologies for the delay this morning. A great ministers’ retreat also meant late nights and early mornings and I decided turning off my alarm was a smart move.

Second – I don’t have much for you today. I could blame it on the grogginess of a long sleep, but really, there’s not much to say. ‘Jubilate deo’ means ‘make a joyful noise to God’  (or rejoice, or praise) and our round based on the first verse of Psalm 100, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.”

I suppose I could talk at length about Michael Praetorius, a 16th century German composer, but there’s nothing much saying “ooo” to me right now, other than the reason why a German man born Schultz is called Praetorius: apparently ‘schultze’ means mayor, which in Latin is ‘praetor’ and for some reason, it was common to Latinize names.

Anyway, this is a fine round, although it’s not a favorite and never a go-to. In case you don’t know it. I’ve posted a YouTube of a Lutheran children’s choir singing it – it’s quite good.

Jubilate Deo.
Jubilate Deo.

And here are the Lutheran kids:

The pic has nothing to do with the song. It’s just a pretty fall scene, similar to some I have been seeing the last few weeks.