Before I dive into the hymn, a few words about Charlottesville, since my only pulpit today is this one:

I am certain I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t been said more publicly and eloquently by colleagues, friends, and admired public figures. But I too must proclaim this as loudly as possible, because we cannot keep silent. Of course – OF COURSE – I condemn the hatred of white nationalism and white supremacy, and I condemn any person or system that encourages, excuses, or refuses to say anything to stop it. It tore our country apart 160 years ago and it’s tearing us apart now.

I pray for healing and comfort for the families and friends of those who lost their lives yesterday as they answered the call of love. Their deaths were senseless. And they were doing good in the world at the moment of their senseless deaths. No words of comfort will be enough, but I see you, and I see them.

And for the young white men who have been radicalized into religious and racial terrorism, I offer my own prayers that they let go of their hate and fear – and I pray that young white men stop being radicalized – and I pray we figure out what the solutions to that radicalization really are. Because it’s a problem we white people have to solve in order to ensure that the black, brown, and queer lives that we say matter actually live.

I’m heartbroken that three people have died. I’m more heartbroken that we have agents of radicalization in power in this country. And … my Universalism tells me that all souls – even those peddling evil – are human souls, worthy of the radical love of God. I’m reminded of that scene in the film Contact, when Ellie (Jodie Foster) goes through the wormhole and sees the extraordinary beauty and vastness of the universe, and she says two things: “they should have sent a poet” and “I had no idea.” I believe that even the most hate-filled people have that moment at death, when they cry in amazement at the awe-some, extraordinarily expansive, radical love.

May we – on the streets, in congregations, in conversations, in work and play, on blogs and social media – may we all show a glimpse of the radical love that dissolves fear and hate and holds all.


Now, the hymn. Another short commentary, not surprisingly.

This is one of the Brian Wren songs I actually really like. It isn’t a litany of metaphors; rather, it goes somewhere. And it’s got a graceful tune, thanks to David Hurd. It’s warm, loving, affirming. And maybe it was just the thing to sing today – reminding us of the bigger picture of life, love, action, compassion, connection.

We are not our own. Earth forms us,
human leaves on nature’s growing vine,
fruit of many generations,
seeds of life divine.

We are not alone. Earth names us:
past and present, peoples near and far,
family and friends and strangers
show us who we are.

Therefore let us make thanksgiving,
and with justice, willing and aware,
give to earth, and all things living,
liturgies of care.

Let us be a house of welcome,
living stone upholding living stone,
gladly showing all our neighbors
we are not our own!

Again I say Amen.

The image is of amazing faith leaders, including UUA President Susan Frederick Gray, bringing love in defiance to hate yesterday in Charlottesville.

The first rule of Let It Be a Dance is that it is a mostly-spoken-word folk song.

The second rule of Let It Be a Dance is that it is a mostly-spoken-word folk song.

The third rule of Let It Be a Dance is that it if you’re going to use it, it’s really only best done on guitar with a folk musician who knows what they’re doing.

I know we have a melody transcribed, and a piano accompaniment written. And yes, it’s a good thing we have preserved this song in our living tradition. Ric Marsten captures something amazing in his lyric – combining the joy of humanity with the sage wisdom of Ecclesiastes 3. I love the language. And the chorus is easy to pick up – as good folk choruses are.

But, as we see from the evidence, and as musician (and SUUSI Boyz founder) Alexis Jones has taught us, this is a largely spoken-word folk song. I think our plodding along with piano and a fierce adherence to the song as written in our hymnal has obscured the beauty of this song

Here. This is Ric himself singing it with a group of children:

Now look at these lyrics – they’re meant to be largely spoken:

Let it be a dance we do.
May I have this dance with you?
Through the good times and the bad times, too,
let it be a dance.

Let a dancing song be heard.
Play the music, say the words,
and fill the sky with sailing birds.
Let it be a dance.
Let it be a dance. Let it be a dance.
Learn to follow, learn to lead,
feel the rhythm, fill the need
to reap the harvest, plant the seed.
Let it be a dance.


Everybody turn and spin,
let your body learn to bend,
and, like a willow with the wind,
let it be a dance.
Let it be a dance. Let it be a dance.
A child is born, the old must die;
a time for joy, a time to cry.
Take it as it passes by.
Let it be a dance.


Morning star comes out at night,
without the dark there is no light.
If nothing’s wrong, then nothing’s right.
Let it be a dance.
Let it be a dance. Let it be a dance.
Let the sun shine, let it rain;
share the laughter, bear* the pain,
and round and round we go again.
Let it be a dance.

A quick note about the phrase “bear the pain” – in a couple of places, I have seen folks make reference to the original being “bare the pain” – which is a very different meaning. However, I’ve not got anything more than anecdotal evidence that “bare” was Marsten’s intent. Anyone have information on this?

Anyway… I hope we can use this song judiciously in our congregations, letting our folk musicians (and you know we all have at least one in a congregation… I’m grateful to have Dan Berggren as a member of my home church, but you know yours) pay tribute to Masten and this wonderful, mostly-spoken-word song.

Of course this is the hymn today, as I set out on 14-hour trip home from SUUSI that was called Blessed Is the Path. And in fact, I’m a little surprised no one used this in their worship this week… except that it’s probably a bit stodgier than most of what we sing here.

Yet it is a favorite hymn of mine, one I find myself using (or wanting to use) a lot. Perhaps it’s because I talk about our journeys a lot – all kinds of journeys, from personal journeys to collective, from spiritual to intellectual, from historical to prophetic. Unitarian Universalist Mark DeWolfe’s lyrics are simply gorgeous:

Sing out praises for the journey, pilgrims, we, who carry on,
searchers in the soul’s deep yearnings, like our forebears in their time.
We seek out the spirit’s wholeness in the endless human quest.

Look inside, your soul’s the kindling of the hearth fire pilgrims knew.
Find the spirit, always restless, find it in each mind and heart.
Touch and hold that ancient yearning, kindling for a newfound truth.

Stand we now upon the threshold, facing futures yet unknown.
Hearth behind us, wayside hostel built by those who knew wild roads.
Guard we e’er their sacred embers carried in our minds and hearts.

An aside – while training friend and colleague Elizabeth Assenza to take over as a Union chapel minister, we giggled a lot at “forebears” because it didn’t scan to our eyes correctly. We wanted it to say “forebearers” because we weren’t quite sure four bears were quite up to the task.

And now you will never look at that word the same way again. Our work here is done.

Now back to the hymn – a lush lyric set to a lovely if somewhat squarely notated – and thus played – tune by the English composer Henry Purcell. I wonder if it would make it drag if done in a 6/8 time signature; it certainly would dance a bit more. Or maybe we find a new tune.

But no matter. I like the Purcell, and I don’t know why I’m stuck on trying to change it, but, well, there it is.

Bottom line: this is a favorite of mine, and it’s a good, useful hymn. I’m grateful for it.

In the first semester of a masters of divinity program at Union Theological Seminary, you are required to take a course in the Old Testament (with New Testament in the spring). Along with thrice weekly lectures with the professor, you also have a 90-minute “tutorial” with a teaching fellow, where you and nine of your new best friends review and deepen knowledge of the material. In my case, it included some spectacular moments of insight, incredibly emotional explorations of troubling texts, along with some hysterical moments, out and out buffoonery, and cooing over new puppies.

While many moments from that tutorial stick out to me, the one that I am remembering now, and which actually relates to the hymn is when we were doing Isaiah. Now many of you are well educated and know that the Biblical texts were written by many different hands at many different times. But it may come as a surprise to some that some entire books were written by various people; this is the case with Isaiah, from which our lyric comes.

Our teaching fellow, Amy, helped us understand the reasons why texts might be attributed to an earlier writer or teacher, and that we could tell through linguistic study, along with theme and theology, which was the original Isaiah text, and which came after. Amy was gentle, saying she learned her lesson after teaching a Sunday school class at a Southern Baptist church while she was at a southern university.

“These poor old church ladies lost their minds when I told them about Second Isaiah – they couldn’t believe they’d been misled their whole lives. One of them went screaming down the hall to the pastor’s office. Another nearly fainted. As I watched them fall apart, I changed the next part of my lesson plan. I didn’t have the heart to tell them about Third Isaiah.”

This text is actually from Second Isaiah, or Dutero-Isaiah, a gorgeous affirmation to the exiled Judeans that their God would not abandon them.

And it’s helpful in these days, even for us with our various understandings of the Divine, as it turns our gaze back to the interdependent web and the lessons the earth can teach us.

O come, you longing thirsty souls, drink freely from the spring.
And come, you weary, famished folk, and end your hungering.
Why spend yourself on empty air? Why not be satisfied?
For everywhere a feast is spread that’s always at our side.

For as the rain and snow above fall not in vanity,
but for this purpose water earth: to feed humanity.
So shall the word of spirit serve as seed within our loam,
that we may bear so rich a yield as brings the harvest home.

For we shall go in peace secure and leave in joy sublime!
The hills outside will burst with song, the trees will clap in time!
No more shall thorns and nettles grow! The bay tree and the pine
shall sign for us th’eternal Name that makes the world a shrine.

This is the third time so far we’ve used Ralph Vaughan Williams’ tune Forest Green (see All Beautiful the March of Days and The Sweet June Days. It’s not the most familiar for me, but it’s quickly growing to be my favorite use, at least today. I return again and again to its gentle lilt and cheer. This is a lyric I find particularly well suited to the tune, as it invokes hope.

And lord knows, we could use a little hope these days.


You may wonder why I chose this drawing of three owls for this hymn. Well, first, owls are cool. But more, but I love that the artist, Isaiah Stephens, said, “I added a Snowy Owl and a Barn Owl to my original Owl Sketch.” First, Second, and Third Isaiah, indeed.

Ear Worm Alert!

This round is so common in Unitarian Universalist circles it’s hard to remember that in the scheme of things, it’s only about as old as the grey hymnal itself. Yet here it is, a standard welcoming song, even if it’s incomplete.

As my beloved colleague Lynn Ungar originally wrote it, this setting also includes a descant that captures perhaps the most important line of this Rumi verse: “Though you’ve broken your vows a thousand times.” To me, it’s the key to the verse – the chance to start anew. That no matter who we are and what we’ve been though, we can come back to this place, where we can find healing and comfort and inspiration.

Come, come, whoever you are,
wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.
Ours is no caravan of despair.
Come, yet again come.

I don’t think it’s a mistake that this one came up on Palm Sunday, either. I haven’t thought deeply about the connection yet, but it feels right that on the day we remember Jesus’s coming to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover and ‘poke the bear’ of the institutions, I am singing a song that could in fact be his message too.

Fascinating how the universe works sometimes, eh?

“K21 Street” – painting by Jackie Carpenter.

I was expecting this to be a difficult song to learn – enough times, that “Irregular” at the bottom of the page signals complex rhythms and intervals.

Yet once I got into it, and I felt the 9/8 rhythm (which is really a glorious 3/4), the song suddenly felt familiar, in a way that makes me wonder if I’ve heard it or sung it before. I can’t identify the time or place, yet it feels familiar in my bones.

Perhaps this is the beauty of folk tunes – this one from the Philippines. Our hymnal says it is a Visayan, or indigenous Filipino folk tune. I believe that’s true, but I don’t want to discount that this tune might have some Western European influence, given the Spanish conquest in 1521, which didn’t end until the Spanish-American  War in 1898 (when the US took over until the end of World War II).

At any rate, what I know is that the tune has a familiar feel, and given that it was easy to sing (easier than expected), I reveled in the lyrics while I was singing – as we know, that rarely happens on the first go of a song.

I mean, look at these words, based on a text from Bishop Toribio Quimada, who founded the Universalist (now Unitarian Universalist) Church of the Philippines:

O, the beauty in a life that illumines honor anew,
that models wise and gracious ways to every seeker;
that every day shall serve in joy and do the right.
O, praise the life whose beauty shows a justice true.

Let not service of the good be confined to great saints alone,
but every hour be part of all our daily living.
Set not the hope of wisdom’s grace beyond our ken;
how wide the path, how close the goal, which love has shown.

O, the beauty of a life that illumines care of the soul,
that knows a love that is for self as well as others,
that every day embodies praise for every good,
this is the faith to which we turn, our God and goal.

How glorious, this call to justice. How elegant, this call to beloved community. How joyful, this call to love and faith and good.

We need this today – to turn to our Faith and allow it to illumine our souls so that we might do the work we are called to.

The photo is of the UU Church of the Philippines in Doldol, in the Negros Islands region.

I’m not sure if this should be a new rule, but it should be something: This title is highly misleading, and we need to do something about that beyond the couple dozen of you who read this blog.

“Has Summer Come Now, Dawning” sounds for all the world like a SUMMER song, doesn’t it? And it doesn’t help when you look to the bottom of the page and see that it is in the “Solstice and Equinox” section. Of course it’s about midsummer – it’s right there in the title!

Well, not so much, as I discovered.

It’s a Yule tune. And more, it’s the Yule tune I have long needed and didn’t know existed.

Has summer come now, dawning amidst the winter’s snows?
And shall we nest the tiny birds within the pine tree’s boughs?
And shall we nest the tiny birds within the pine tree’s boughs?

Already now the candles have blossom’d on the tree
to light the longest winter night for all of us to see,
to light the longest winter night for all of us to see.

The old one now made youthful, just like a child at play,
the bending back now straighten’d so in our hearts we pray,
the bending back now straighten’d so in our hearts we pray.

In all our hearts is kindled a hearthfire so sublime.
Would that this yuletide spirit be with us for all time.
Would that this yuletide spirit be with us for all time.

Set to a delightful German folk tune, lyrics translated from the Finnish, this is just perfect. It actually deserves to be on a music box, and I can imagine a pianist lightly playing it up a couple of octaves on the piano as an instrumental before going back to what’s written so we can sing it.

It’s about a week early for the winter solstice tunes, but only that much. And I’m a bit delighted by this hymn. Now some of you might be saying “gee, Kimberley, you rail against hymns that don’t go anywhere, yet you like this simple little ditty? Just how fickle are you?”

Well, dear reader, it actually does do something. First, using it at the end of a solstice service would be a cheerful send off after entering the dark – a corrective, a harbinger of the light to come. Second, it embodies hygge, which Louisa Thomsen Brits (author of The Book of Hygge) describes as “art of building sanctuary and community, of inviting closeness and paying attention to what makes us feel open hearted and alive. To create well-being, connection and warmth. A feeling of belonging to the moment and to each other. Celebrating the everyday.”

This hymn is a little bit of hygge, and I’m grateful that this project gets me past the titles. What a delightful little gem on a cold near-winter morning.

Surely we can come up with some sort of rule, can’t we?

Another season, another praise for the season song.

Color me surprised.

Now don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a bad thing. Hymns like this are wonderful openings for seasonal services, especially those that celebrate our seventh principle. And the tune is delightful and lively – this is a perfect opening hymn for the first week of June.

It’s the sacred version of “The Lusty Month of May” from Camelot. Tra la.

The sweet June days are come again; once more the glad earth yields
its golden wealth of rip’ning grain, and breath of clover fields,
and deep’ning shade of summer woods, and glow of summer air,
and winging thoughts and happy moods of love and joy and prayer.

The sweet June days are come again; the birds are on the wing;
bright anthems, in their merry strain, unconsciously they sing.
Oh, how our cup o’er brims with good these happy summer days;
for all the joys of field and wood we lift our song of praise.

The truth is, I wish I had more to say (It is possible that this is exhaustion talking – I landed at LaGuardia after a short trip to Phoenix at midnight and had to drive 90 minutes home, so I haven’t exactly had a full eight).

This isn’t a hymn that moves me or awakens anything in me. It’s lovely, it’s something you’ll hum in the lobby…er…coffee hour later, it’s a nice piece. But it’s not an earth-shaker for me. It’s just a nice, sweet little hymn that I am glad exists.

Although to be fair, it’s cold here on the North Fork of Long Island, and I don’t see myself tra-la-ing any time soon. Fa-la-la-ing around a Christmas tree, on the other hand…

Another damn morning song.

You that have spent the silent night in sleep and quiet rest,
and joy to see the cheerful light that rises in the east,
that rises in the east,

Now lift your hearts, your voices raise, your morning tribute bring;
all nature join in grateful praise — rejoice, give thanks, and sing,
rejoice, give thanks, and sing.

So here’s my truth this morning – I am preparing to lead a service that will include hard feelings, tears, frustrations, and I’m trying to get the congregation to a place of at least some hope. It’s a hope I don’t feel yet. I am feigning faith today.  But I know sometimes that’s called for, when hope is needed.

So I’m finding it awfully annoying that my spiritual practice has me singing songs like this, shoving hope in my face when I’m not ready for it.

And I wonder if that’s the point (spoiler: it is). We don’t always feel this, even when all seems reasonably okay in the world. I know there are times when people come into our doors feeling all kinds of terrible, sad, traumatized – and I wonder what starting a service off with this song would be like for them. Would they, as I did when I encountered it this morning, be filled with rage and tears? Would I find a little hope in it anyway? Would it tell me this community might be a place to put down that burden?

I don’t know, but I have to assume that might be true. So… yeah. I’m not feeling this today, but these damn morning songs keep bringing me back to a truth that says love hasn’t ended, hope still exists, there is something more out there to hold onto in these dark times.

May it be so for all of us.

A post that is hardly about this hymn at all, but it’s fine.

Sovereign and transforming Grace,
we invoke your quickening power;
reign the spirit of this place,
bless the purpose of this hour.

Holy and creative Light,
we invoke your kindling ray;
draw upon our spirit’s night,
as the darkness turns to day.

To the anxious soul impart hope,
all other hopes above;
stir the dull and hardened heart
with a longing and a love.

I feel like I’ve been on a tune rant – one of the consequences of singing while clergy, I suppose, is that part of my mind is always thinking about how a congregation receives and participates in the music. And I wonder, more so lately, if we should be thinking about our collections of music differently.

My hunch is that there are hymns in STLT, and maybe even in STJ, that we want to keep, want to remember, believe are a crucial part of our theology, our tradition, our body of work. And yet, they aren’t necessarily songs a congregation would sing on even a remotely regular basis. What happens if we create a worship professionals’ guide to the hymnals, a commentary of sorts, that not only talks about the origins of the hymns (like we have in Between the Lines), but also comments about tempo, style, choral v. solo v. congregational choices, tips for teaching, etc.? Surely we have enough musicians in the UUMN, along with musical clergy, who could shed some light onto these hymns. Surely we could help those in small congregations without music professionals, or without musical clergy, so that good choices could be made AND hymns that get flipped past regularly find new life through different means of presentation in worship.

Am I asking too much? I mean, I look at a hymn like this – the lyrics are really good. It’s got a fairly square meter ( But the tune requires some teaching so that the lyrics shine and not get lost – as they did originally for me – in favor of figuring out how to sing it.

And yes, the musical among us will say “we already do that – we know what should be sung by a soloist or choir and what will work for group singing.” But I am realizing many don’t – or wish they had a clue.

Is this a crazy idea? Or one that just might work?