For about a dozen years, my mother lived on the Outer Banks of North Carolina – it’s how I got to the state too. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, I would come in from the Raleigh-Durham area, and the rest of my family would come down from New York to celebrate the holidays. And on Thanksgiving weekend, to help Mom out, we’d decorate the tree.

One year in particular, we wound up listening to some old Allan Sherman records while we decorated – finding branches for Santas and snowmen, while singing “Hello Muddah” and marching around laying the garland to “The Ballad of Harry Lewis.” And adding the finishing touches to a conga line while singing “My Zelda” – a parody of Harry Belefonte’s “Matilda.” Every year since, whether decorating with family or alone, at some point the Allan Sherman shows up, and I usually find myself singing a calypso parody before the final ornament is placed.

It’s not surprising, then, to find myself singing this Sea Islands-inspired calypso-esque piece, on this day when the tree will be decorated.

Here’s what the UUA’s Song Information page has to say:

Composed in 1997 in Cuzzago, Italy, this is the title song of Elise Witt’s 8th recording on the EMWorld Records label. Open the Window was inspired by a Spiritual from the Georgia Sea Islands called Heist the Window, Noah. Though Elise’s version uses only one phrase from the original Spiritual, it keeps the intention of naming situations in our lives, personal and global, that need opening for the dove to fly in, for us to find peace.

Here are the lyrics:

Open the window children,
Open the window now.
Open the window children.
Open the window let the dove fly in.
Open the window let the dove fly in.

Mama and Papa are fighting like snakes
Open the window let the dove fly in.
Baby is a cry in’ like her heart will break
Open the window let the dove fly in.


Neighbors lock their doors, Build fences so high.
Open the window let the dove fly in.
Don’t see what’s to discover on the other side.
Open the window let the dove fly in.


Borders ‘round countries, borders ‘round the sky.
Open the window let the dove fly in.
The only border close you is the border ‘round your mind.
Open the window let the dove fly in.

Abran la ventana niños,
Abran la ventana ya,
Abran la ventana niños.
Abran la ventana que entre la paloma.
Abran la ventana que entre la paloma.

And here is where I’m supposed to offer some deep thoughts about the music, or the lyrics, or the theology, or even about fair use, appropriation, or singability.

Yet I don’t know what to say. It’s not a song I’ve ever used. And I’m not entirely sure about it. It’s entirely possible that this practice has made me gunshy and oversensitive… or it’s possible that this practice has honed my spidey senses and I’m appropriately more sensitive to subtle issues of appropriation and wonky theologies.

All I know is that on this day, with an unadorned tree awaiting our attention, my sister and I will enjoy both the old Christmas favorites – Ed Ames, The Carpenters, John Denver and the Muppets – and a little Borscht Belt humor.

Not sure I am ready for hope yet…

The morning hangs a signal upon the mountain crest,
while all the sleeping valleys in silent darkness rest.
From peak to peak it flashes, it laughs along the sky,
till glory of the sunlight on all the land shall lie.

Above the generations the lonely prophets rise,
while truth flares as the daystar within their glowing eyes;
and other eyes, beholding, are kindled from that flame;
and dawn becomes the morning, when prophets love proclaim.

The soul has lifted moments, above the drift of days,
when life’s great meaning breaketh in sunrise on our ways.
Behold the radiant token of faith above all fear;
night shall release its splendor that morning shall appear.

But when I am, this is the hymn I might turn to – because if nothing else, the middle verse reminds us that others have gone before and struggled against tyranny and hate, and we can turn to them and their loving example.

But that day is not today. I’m not there in the process yet. But it’s kinda nice to know this hymn is here for when I am.

The timing of this hymn is awful, and I am not in a mind to find the bigger purpose today.

Bring, O morn, thy music! Night, thy starlit silence!
Oceans, laugh in rapture to the storm-winds coursing free!
Suns and planets chorus, praise to Thee, Most Holy —
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.

Life and death, thy creatures, praise thee, mighty Giver!
Praise and prayer are rising in thy beast and bird and tree:
Lo! they praise and vanish, vanish at thy bidding —
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.

Life nor death can part us, O thou Love eternal,
Shepherd of the wandering star and souls that wayward flee!
Homeward draws the spirit to thy Spirit yearning —
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.

I’m struggling to sing today. This tune is so cheerful (Nicea – known as Holy, Holy, Holy) and strident, it’s feeling utterly off key.

And that’s about all I have to say.

Some of the shock is wearing off and the reality is setting in, and taking a broad view of creation feels terribly ineffective right now. Things are bad on the ground, in reality. Looking skyward doesn’t help one bit.


The sun at high noon, the stars in dark space,
the light of the moon on each upturned face,
the high clouds, the rain clouds, the lark-song on high:
we gaze up in wonder above to the sky.

The green grassy blade, the grasshopper’s sound,
the creatures of shade that live in the ground,
the dark soil, the moist soil, where plants spring to birth:
we look down at wonder below in the earth.

The glad joys that heal the tears in our eyes,
the longings we feel, the light of surprise,
our night dreams, our day dreams, our thoughts ranging wide:
we live with a whole world of wonder inside.

Let’s get the melody stuff right out of the way – Tom Benjamin, whom I have had the pleasure of making music with, is a terrific hymn writer, and this tune is great. It’s got all of the qualities you want in a tune, including a well-matched lyric.

I suspect if I were in a different mindset, I’d be singing this hymn’s praises. We really actually don’t have too many hymns that praise nature and its meaning/effect on us. But right now – just weeks before the votes are cast in the most contentious American election possibly ever – singing praises to nature doesn’t cut it for me. I need something right now to help me make sense of deep questions of worth. I need something to get in deep and make it all okay.

Of course, I realize that this is why we have hundreds of hymns and are free to choose those we need to work with a particular setting. And my doing this rather artificially structured tour means I will sing hymns that are not connected to what is actually called for.

And yet… as I typed those words, I wonder. Is it so random, really, that I am singing hymns about nature and the celebration of our interdependent web, that when people are behaving at their worst I am singing praises to the earth and all its inhabitants at their best? I don’t disagree with my earlier feeling that some of these hymns are a little fluffy and light on the theology… and maybe that is exactly the point. Maybe the point is that we have to remember there is more to life than the conflict that is arising or the particular events of a moment. There is more to life – and it is there for us to see, all around us, beyond us, within us.

There it is, then.