It’s a song for our time, this one.

Now it sits in the middle of the mystical and meditation section, but it’s really a fight song, a reminder that we have to keep getting up off the mat, to always be open, to revel in that which brings us joy but not forget that there is work to be done so that all may feel joy.

Although this life is but a wraith,
although we know not what we use,
although we grope with little faith,
give me the heart to fight and lose.

Open my ears to music,
let me thrill with spring’s first flutes and drums —
but never let me dare forget
the bitter ballads of the slums.

Ever insurgent let me be,
make me more daring than devout;
from sleek contentment keep me free,
and fill me with a buoyant doubt.

From compromise and things half-done,
keep me, with stern and stubborn pride;
and when, at last, the fight is won,
O, keep me still unsatisfied.

I just wish the tune kept me satisfied — I think this is another case where struggling with an unfamiliar tune obscures the power of the lyrics. The tune may be familiar to others, but I plunked through, having found no recordings of it (Small Church Music has this one with a licensee that isn’t valid in the US), but it wasn’t clicking for me. To get full effect, I confess I sang it to O Waly Waly, which seemed an appropriate substitution. Once I did that, I felt the strength and resolve of these lyrics by Louis Untermeyer, who also wrote the equally compelling May Nothing Evil Cross This Door. As a pair, these two hymns – while not written by a Unitarian Universalist – seem to embody much of who we are and what we want to be.

This is not a quiet prayer. This is a reminder to our souls to answer faith’s call to action. And more, it’s a reminder that the work may actually never really be done:  “when at last the fight is won, O keep me still unsatisfied.”

In other words, stay woke.

 

In case you forgot our Christian roots…

Unto thy temple, Lord, we come
with thankful hearts to worship thee;
and pray that this may be our home
until we touch eternity:

The common home of rich and poor,
of bond and free, and great and small;
large as thy love forever more,
and warm and bright and good to all.

May thy whole truth be spoken here;
thy gospel light forever shine;
thy perfect love cast out all fear,
and human life become divine.

This is a very Christian hymn.

It is also a very Unitarian Universalist hymn.

Christian, because it imagines a transcendent, omnipresent, loving Divine… because it proclaims the message of Jesus… because it reflects on the kingdom of heaven….and yeah, because it references the gospel.

Unitarian Universalist because it imagines God as Love….because it affirms our first principle… because it reminds of us our call to help heal the world.

I point out the obvious in my processing this morning, because sometimes its helpful – especially in ecumenical and interfaith settings – to point out that we hold dear the core of Jesus’s ministry and that it informs who we are today. I like to say we take the assertions to their inevitable conclusions. For me, this hymn makes that connection clear. Yeah, at first I went “huh” at the language, especially seeing a “Lord” where that word has been so carefully excised elsewhere. But when you take a longer view, it may not be the specific theology of a plurality of UUs, it certainly reflects our theological foundations. And in these days of the run up to the election, its kind of nice to start the day with a hymn that reminds me of that greater truth – perfect love casts out fear. Yes.

Plus, the tune (Duke Street) totally works with this one.

 

Titles are deceiving…

View the starry realm of heaven,
shining distant empires sing.
Skysong of celestial children
turns each winter into spring, turns each winter into spring.

Great you are, beyond conception,
God of gods and God of stars.
My soul soars with your perception,
I escape from prison bars, I escape from prison bars.

You, the One within all forming
in my heart and mind and breath,
you, my guide through hate’s fierce storming,
courage in both life and death, courage in both life and death.

Life is yours, in you I grow tall,
seed will come to fruit I know.
Trust that after winter’s snowfall
walls will melt and Truth will flow, walls will melt and Truth will flow.

I have never sung this hymn. I have never really even paused to read the lyrics. I think once or twice I have noticed that it was written by notable Unitarian minister and martyr Norbert Capek. But I’ve easily flipped past, because we’ve got so many “ooo, look at God in nature” hymns already.

Mea culpa.

Sure, the first verse is lovely and nature filled. But this second verse… “my soul soars with your perception; I escape from prison bars.” And the verses after… “courage in both life and death”… “trust that after winter’s snowfall walls will melt and Truth will flow.”

Damn.

A look to the bottom of the page – the tune is called Dachau. And I remember this, from the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography:

On the 28th of March, 1941, Čapek and his daughter, Zora, aged 29, were arrested by the Gestapo and taken to Pankrac Prison. Zora was accused of listening to foreign broadcasts and distributing the content of some BBC transmissions; Čapek himself of listening to foreign broadcasts and of “high treason.” Several of his sermons were cited as “evidence” of the latter charge. Listening to foreign broadcasts was a capital offense under the Protectorate. Two separate trials were held, the first at Pankrac Prison soon after their arrest; the second, an appeal of the original decision, at Dresden in April 1942. The appeals court found Čapek innocent of the treason charge, recommending that, given his age, the year between his arrest and the appeals trial be counted toward his jail time. The Gestapo, ignoring the court’s recommendation, nonetheless sent Čapek to Dachau, Zora to forced labor in Germany. Čapek’s name appears among prisoners sent on an invalid transport on October 12, 1942 to Hartheim Castle, near Linz, Austria, where he died of poison gas.

And I think to myself of all the people of faith who maintained their faith in the worst of atrocities – Čapek, yes, and Bonhoeffer and Frankl – and I think of all that our faith calls us to do, and how we find the courage to do so.

And my mind goes to my colleagues who are heading to Standing Rock to answer the call to clergy to come pray… and the call that went out 51 years ago to clergy to join King in Selma… and all of the times our faith calls us to face down atrocities, because our faith helps us find the courage to do so.

I’m not heading to Standing Rock because of various commitments here – but I support those who are going, and I pray with those who are, and I pray that all who are there remain safe.

“Life is yours – in you I grow tall.” May we all grow tall, and courageous, and may the truth flow.

Be thou my vision, O God of my heart;
naught be all else to me, save that thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word;
I ever with thee and thou with me God;
thou my soul’s shelter, thou my high tower,
raise thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor world’s empty praise,
thou my inheritance, now and always;
thou and thou only, first in my heart,
Sov’reign of heaven, my treasure thou art.

Commence theological whiplash in 3…2…1….

Yesterday, we sang a paean to the interconnected web of all existence. Today, we shall now sing one of the most theistic hymns we have.  We’ve gone from a recitation of things found in nature and among us (sun, wind, the lark, the seasons, rain and snow, play, sleep), saying “I’m as rich as rich can be, for all these things belong to me … to a singular focus on a transcendent God: “thou my inheritance, first and always.”

Like I said. Whiplash.

Not that it’s bad… in fact, it’s quite reflective of the vastness of our theologies and perspectives, and speaks deeply of who we are that these two hymns can be on facing pages, one touching the other almost all the time, getting our sense of the planet all mashed up with a focus on the Divine.

Oddly, it’s not entirely unreflective of my own theology – individually, they are what they are. But mashed up together (which musically would be difficult due to different time signatures and phrasing), they feel very much like the theistic process theology I find both comforting and challenging. Here’s creation and all the amazingness that it is, and we can celebrate our part in it, and… we can look to that which some call God as the source of vision, wisdom, comfort, protection to be key to that creation which we celebrate. It isn’t a perfect fit, of course; I’m not sure I’m completely down with this early 20th century picture of God, but some within our faith are, and I am glad we celebrate this transcendent God in our hymnal.

Musically, of course, this tune (Slane) is light, easy, familiar – I am sure most UUs regularly sing this to Thomas Mikelson’s words, “Wake now my senses and hear the earth call” (298 for those keeping score). It’s catchy – a tune I will probably find myself humming all day.

But beyond today, I will carry with me this juxtaposition, this theological whiplash, and continue to think about how we hold these differences in juxtaposition, put them in conversation, make space for the both outside a book where they don’t even know they’re connected. This is part of our work: making sense of the space where both these things are true.