This might be my favorite song in Singing the Journey.

It’s not my favorite congregational hymn – in fact, I’ve yet to encounter a congregation that’s even tried it as a hymn. But every time I hear a duet or choir sing it – or every time I sing it with someone – I weep from its beauty and its truth.

Our piece is composed by friend and colleague Beth Norton, and is based on a Transylvanian folk song and saying. As the UUA Song Information page notes,

This setting of the blessing is a “partner song” with the text in Hungarian in one part and in English in the other part. It was composed for the choir of First Parish in Concord, MA on the occasion of their Musical Pilgrimage to Transylvania in the summer of 2002. The song is dedicated to Concord’s partner congregation in Székelykeresztúr and to the musical pilgrims of First Parish in Concord.

The gorgeous, haunting piece weaves languages and melodies together to connect us to faith and to the Mystery. Even if you don’t believe in God, per se, there is connection.

Hol hit ott szeretet;
hol szeretet ott béke.
Hol béke ott áldás;
hol áldás ott Isten.
Hol Isten ott szükség nin csen.

Where there is faith there is love;
where there is love there is peace.
Where there is peace there is blessing;
where there is blessing there is God.
Where there is God, there is no need.

What I especially love is the idea that love isn’t the end – we often rely on love first and last, helped along by our Universalist assertions that God Is Love, and thus ultimate. No, in this understanding, love leads to peace leads to blessing leads to God/Mystery. But it begins with faith. Simple, impossible faith.

Yeah, that’ll preach.

The image is of hand-made needlework, made by Unitarian artists from Szentlaszlo Unitarian Church in Transylvania. It was an offering for the 2016 Goods and Services auction at Unitarian Church North in Mequon, WI – blessings to the member who won!

Some songs just get into your whole body.

The rhythm pulses in your blood, the melody lines hum in your muscles, the lyrics rest deep in your bones. The song feels as natural to you and as naturally yours as if it had emerged from your own mind and soul.

That’s how this one is for me. From the moment I first heard it, it made sense to me – from the 5/4 rhythm to the rolling musical phrases and the vibrant lyrical metaphors. I think I had this memorized before I realized I wanted to learn it.

I realize that not everyone has this experience with this song, by Jason Shelton and Mary Katherine Morn. Some, because it can be overused. Some, because their accompanists never got the hang of the 6/8+2/4 that is this particular 5/4 meter. Some, because the chorus goes high on the word ‘fire,’ a word that can be weird to sing because of its dipthong.

But for me, this song, written for the celebration of First Unitarian Universalist Nashville’s 50th anniversary in 2002, is practically perfect.

From the light of days remembered burns a beacon bright and clear
Guiding hands and hearts and spirits Into faith set free from fear.

When the fire of commitment sets our mind and soul a blaze
When our hunger and our passion meet to call us on our way
When we live with deep assurance of the flame that burns within,
Then our promise finds fulfillment and our future can begin.

From the stories of our living rings a song both brave and free,
Calling pilgrims still to witness to the life of liberty.


From the dreams of youthful vision comes a new, prophetic voice,
Which demands a deeper justice built by our courageous choice


I think it’s so strong in so many ways. Morn’s lyrics are expansive, hopeful, and to me, theologically sound. Shelton’s music is alive with joy, energy, and anticipation. I haven’t studied music composition, but as a singer I know that just as there are keys that evoke certain mood, there are also certain feelings that you get from different time signatures; my experience with songs written in 5/4 is that there’s an anticipatory feel to them, like something is not quite finished – and that’s either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the song.

Anyway. If you haven’t had a chance to really hear the song the way it should be, check out the recording from Jason’s album – you can hear the addition of percussion helps keep rhythm; additionally, playing the accompaniment with the emphases in the right hand also keeps it driving forward.

I love this song deep in my bones, and I am grateful to Jason, Mary Katherine, and all who worked to bring this song to the fore and plant it in our living tradition.

“Fire Chalice” by PeacePeg – see this and more of her beautiful work at

This song calls to us: “Come! Let’s be singing!”

And what shall we sing?

“Sing alleluia!”

That’s it. That’s the song. In English and in Hebrew.

Hava nashirah. Shirah alleluia!
Hava nashirah. Shirah alleluia!
Hava nashirah. Shirah alleluia!

Come, let’s be singing. Sing alleluia!
Come, let’s be singing. Sing alleluia!
Come, let’s be singing. Sing alleluia!

It is written in three parts that can be sung as a round  – or ideally a canon, which is great because one part is quite low and one part is quite high. It all seems simple, except the beauty of rounds is the complexity that comes when the parts blend. This one is quite gorgeous and joyful.

I don’t have much more to say…it’s origins are unknown but its presence is cheering.


It’s 24 hours since nearly five dozen people died and nearly 600 were wounded by a single gunman wreaking terror in Las Vegas. And I still don’t have words, only the heaviness in my heart that is both sad and outraged.

That is, I suppose, why the Universe keeps doing this: putting cheerful, aspirational, hopeful songs in front of me when things seem at their worst. And I offer the Universe that annoyed chuckle that says, “I see what you did there, dammit.”

But then I started to think about personal tragedies that leave us sad and/or outraged, things that only one or two of us might bring into the sanctuary on a Sunday morning… and I wonder what it feels like to them when we start a service with a song like this. It must feel like you’re out of phase, and I suppose it can feel like either an invitation or an affront. I mean, it’s peppy and happy and just so damn….joyful.

Now let us sing, sing, sing                      Sing to the power of the faith within.
Now let us sing, sing, sing                      Sing to the power of the faith within.
Lift up your voice, be not afraid;             Lift up your voice, be not afraid;
sing to the power of the faith within.     sing to the power of the faith within.

Sing to the power of the hope within …

Sing to the power of the love within. …

Sing to the power of the joy within. …

What I hope, however, is that the penultimate line – “lift up your voice, be not afraid” – might offer some release.

Because while I am still sad and outraged, singing this (albeit with one part in my head), and singing “be not afraid” did change me a little. I took it slowly at first, with a quiet and almost contemplative feel; and yes, there is something to the power of the faith within.” and the hope, and the love. By the time I got to the joy, I was… okay. Not cured; nothing short of going back in time can cure this. But I was more okay than when I started.

May we all find things in the coming days to help us be okay so that we can do the work that our faith calls us to.

Hey, now this one is interesting.

Back in the 1920s, the humanist-theist battle was already taking shape, and much the same as now, worship becomes the battleground for such controversies. Charles Lyttle, minister and professor of church history at Meadville, wrote these lyrics for a doxology “as a bridge” between the two theological factions.

Praise God, praise God, the love we all may share.
Praise God, praise God, the beauty everywhere.
Praise God, the hope of good to be.
Praise God, the truth that makes us free.

Knowing how much some of our modern UUs struggle with the word “God” and/or the word “praise” – I wonder how this would be received today. I like it, personally, but then, I’m a theist. And because it’s set to that rolling Doxology by Patrick Rickey, I think it’s gorgeous and welcoming.

But more, I think it’s interesting that the humanists would have been okay with “praise God” 100 years ago. Hmmm….things to ponder….

I have no idea why I have never heard nor sung this song. It seems a shame, because it is lovely.

And I’m not sure what else to say. The music, by Patrick Rickey, is a lush, rolling piece in 12/8; it’s fairly easy to sing, but just tricky enough to keep you interested. And the lyrics, well…y’all know I love an alleluia. And y’all know I love some Belletini. So…Belletini writing Alleluias? Winner.

Alleluia! sang stars that gave us birth!
Alleluia! resounds our home, the earth!
Alleluia! shall echo ‘cross the skies.
Alleluia! when peace has shown us wise.

The tune is called Doxology, but I don’t personally know any congregations that use this as such. I’d love to hear about them, though, and might suggest this as an alternative to Old 100th.

It is said that into every hymnal a little cheesy, catchy, happy song must fall.

This one’s ours, folks.

And as far as cheesy, catchy, happy songs go, well, this one covers all the bases and then some. Because in the middle of some rather average invitations – “open your ears to the song” and “open your hearts, everyone” comes the zinger: “don’t be afraid of some change.”

Very sneaky, Louise Ruspini (our composer). I like it a lot. Sure, I suspect Ruspini is thinking about inner change, and that’s important, of course. But I know I’m not the only minister who’s used this one on a day when some change in the system is introduced. Because change is going to come whether you welcome it or not, so you might as well welcome it, right?

Enter, rejoice, and come in.
Enter, rejoice, and come in.
Today will be a joyful day;
enter, rejoice, and come in.

Open your ears to the song…

Open your hearts ev’ryone…

Don’t be afraid of some change…

Enter, rejoice, and come in…

Anyway, if you don’t know the tune, there are a bunch of videos on YouTube. Or ask a random Unitarian Universalist, who will groan, sing it to you, and then share their parody lyrics. Mine – co-written with Randy Becker – are below:

Exit, go out, go away
Exit, go out, go away
Go enjoy the rest of your day
Exit, go out, go away.

I was going to share a cheerful pic of ceramic frogs, but I thought it wouldn’t be a bad time to share our message of welcome – thanks to Ellen Rocket and the UUA for these signs of resistance.

When it comes to film, there are genres and directors I am a fan of, those I dislike, and those I appreciate. For purposes of today’s post, I will say that I dislike horror and appreciate the director Robert Rodriguez – especially his masterful work on Sin City.

Now, if you ever saw his film From Dusk to Dawn (written by Quentin Tarantino) … (am I supposed to add a spoiler alert for a film that is over two decades old?), you know that the first half of the film is very much a Tarantino-style film, with a gallery of rogues and a slew of seedy deals. And then halfway through, in the blink of an eye, it stops being a roadhouse film and begins being a horror film, complete with vampires.  I don’t exactly know what happens in the first ten minutes of that crossover, because I spent the entire time shocked, repeating “what the hell? what the hell?” I felt like I got suckered into one kind of film, which I appreciate, only to be handed a film whose genre I seriously dislike.

What does this have to do with today’s hymn, you ask?

Look at these lyrics, by Grace Lewis-McLaren:

When we are gathered for a time of worship and of song,
let none forget the joys and griefs that mark each path of life,
and thus we reach for those who love, we reach for those who love.

For youth shall pass and time is wise, and countless seasons turn,
so day by day our years increase until at last by life released
our spirits shine like stars, our spirits shine like stars.

Here we go, tripping along, being gathered, grateful for the time of sharing and the community of love that surrounds us. And then suddenly, the sun sets and You Are Going To Die.

This song gives me the same whiplash that From Dusk Till Dawn did. I didn’t spend 20 minutes staring at the screen, but I did feel like I got suckered into singing one kind of song only to be handed another.

Which then begs the question: if this a time passes, life is impermanent kind of song, why is it in the Entrance Songs section?

And just as I’m still not quite sure about whether I like, appreciate, or dislike From Dusk Till Dawn, I’m not quite sure what I think of this one. It’s a lovely, light tune (Repton), and it has a lot to appreciate, but I really don’t think I like it, because I’m not sure how I would use a piece that’s part ‘welcome to this loving community’ and, part ‘to dust you shall return’.


Image is a still from the film From Dusk Till Dawn.

I don’t even know where to begin, so I guess I’ll begin with this morning’s experience of singing.

As frequent readers know, I’m an Anglophile – a lover of British television, British film, the British Isles, and at least once, a British person. Knowing this was today’s hymn before I cracked open the hymnal, I started humming the tune (by English composer Walford Davies) in the shower, and it felt – feels – quintessentially British. I was transported to the Proms, and a scene from a Merchant-Ivory film, and it reminded me of Holst and Elgar and that early 20th century English classical music that seems an antidote to the romanticism of the French.

And as I shampooed, I remembered that the lyrics are troubling at best. Here’s what we have from the original by John Huntley Skrine, abridged and new words added by our man Carl Seaburg:

Rank by rank again we stand,
from the four winds gathered hither.
Loud the hallowed walls demand
whence we come and how, and whither.
From their stillness breaking clear,
echoes wake to warn or cheer;
higher truth from saint and seer
call to us assembled here.

Ours the years’ memorial store,
honored days and names we reckon,
days of comrades gone before,
lives that speak and deeds that beckon.
From the dreaming of the night
to the labors of the day,
shines their everlasting light,
guiding us upon our way.

Though the path be hard and long,
still we strive in expectation;
join we now their ageless song
one with them in aspiration.
One in name, in honor one,
guard we well the crown they won;
what they dreamed be ours to do,
hope their hopes, and seal them true.

Trust me, you don’t want to know Skrine’s original lyrics – which were written at the height of British Imperialism at the end of the 19th century. Seaburg did an okay job of softening the Empire language, and lines like “what they dreamed be ours to do” is inspiring. Sometime in the last 20 years, an additional verse was added by Kendyl Gibbons:

Never from that summons swerve;
Hark the prophets’ living chorus!
Truth and freedom still to serve
Show the present path before us.
As we dream, so shall we dare;
Hands to service, hearts to prayer.
Clouds of witness call us on,
That a nobler day may dawn.

It’s not bad, and “as we dream so shall we dare” is also a kick-ass line.

But oh, the problems. Empire. Abelism. And a song written, likely, for convocation (this appears in a handbook of songs for the University of Wales, compiled by Davies – with this tune, Reunion, written for this purpose). And of course at the time, we have men going to university in part to continue ruling the British Empire, which is already beginning to show signs of cracking in the wake of World War I. It’s not wonder this somewhat militarized tune and language would be used; even though in that context ‘rank by rank’ alluded to the various academic levels, rank also alludes to the military.

Surprisingly, information on this – especially the tune – was hard to find. A quick search for the tune turned up empty, and it took a while to even find reference to this song outside of our annual Service of the Living Tradition. I finally found a PDF of the hymnal it comes from (for those who want to follow along, click here – it’s on page 303 of the book and 345 of the PDF itself). The lyrics show up on Hymnary, but not the tune, which was a later addition. I finally found a recording of the tune here, in an obscure section of a folksinger’s website (Mary Ellen Wessels). I should also note that this was in Hymns of the Spirit and Hymns for the Celebration of Life, so it has a long history in our liberal religious tradition.

But the search, and my experience with this hymn, is frustrating and complex. And this is a hymn most of us sing once or twice a year. Has anyone sung this when they’re not processing at an ordination, installation, or Service of the Living Tradition? And most of us dislike the song but love the pomp and circumstance. A few still love it, and so it stays as part of our tradition. Can we redeem it? It seems that every year after General Assembly, we talk on Facebook about different lyrics – suggestions include

Rank by rank again we meet,
from the four winds gathered hither.
Loud the hallowed walls entreat
whence we come and how, and whither.


Rank by rank come we once more,
from the four winds gathered hither.
Loud the hallowed walls implore
whence we come and how, and whither.


We can get rid of it altogether for these handful of times a year, because while it is an historic part of our living tradition, we are easily able to preserve it (see the piles of old hymnals we have) and – because our living tradition CHANGES – we can choose something new. When I hear about how different the Service of the Living Tradition was not that long ago, it seems strange that we have such a fuss over changing the music we use. And if it makes us better as a result, why not?

And… I will still hum this tune now and then because it’s pretty good for a school processional.

Photo (via UU World) is of Rev. Cheryl Walker preaching at the 2017 Service of the Living Tradition.

On December 9th, this tune first appeared, and I suggested that “later in the hymnal, we sing the usual words.” Well, that ‘later’ is today, and while the first three words are the same as the usual words, that is where ‘usual’ ends. And so I stand here in my wrongness being wrong.

And thank all that is holy that I am.

You see, the original words – from a Dutch hymn written in the 1600s, when they were fighting for their independence from the Spanish – are quite different:

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

The original is a song of liberation, and gets tagged onto Thanksgiving only around World War I, as it appears in American hymnals only around 1903. The lyrics continue, by the way, in the same “God is on our side in this conflict” vein. Which makes its association with the Thanksgiving holiday even more awful. ::::shudder::::

So much for the usual song with the usual words.

Thankfully, two modern-day Unitarian Universalists, Dorothy Caiger Senghas and Rev. Robert Sengas, wrote new lyrics, for a Thanksgiving Sunday.

We gather together in joyful thanksgiving,
acclaiming creation, whose bounty we share;
both sorrow and gladness we find now in our living,
we sing a hymn of praise to the life that we bear.

We gather together to join in the journey,
confirming, committing our passage to be
a true affirmation, in joy and tribulation,
when bound to human care and hope — then we are free.

Now this is a Thanksgiving hymn I can get behind. Sure, it’s in the Hope section, but it is definitely worth putting on the Thanksgiving list too. And if you really want to do it right, sing the first verse as your opening words and the last verse as your closing words, because they would frame a message of gratitude calling us together and calling us onwards to the work of our faith.