First, I need to say a prayer for Key West, and really all of south Florida this morning. I have friends who are still on the island (mostly they are first responders, public works folk, or other government officials), and they are getting hit so very hard as I type. I’ve seen a few videos of storm surge waters in Bahama Village and trees down on Smathers Beach, and I am holding a fair amount of anxiety right now. And then I go  preach on the benefits of spiritual practice. (And actually, this is helping, this spiritual practice right here… because I had to stop, be still, and be present with myself and God for a few minutes.)


I keep coming back to a line written by Susan Frederick-Gray, and highlighted for me by an amazing service by Erika Hewitt: “No one is outside the circle of love.”

To be honest, it’s really changed my thinking about our principles and even our understanding of Unitarian Universalism’s history – that at every moment we have had the choice to expand the circle of love, or not, both theologically and ethically. I’m still pondering, but this aspiration that no one be outside the circle of love has captured my ministerial imagination.

And I think I just found one of my new anthems – this short, old hymn. The lyrics are by our old friend Sam Longfellow, set to the familiar Winchester New (the same tune is sung for As Tranquil Streams).

I mean, check out this lyric:

With joy we claim the growing light,
advancing thought, and widening view,
the larger freedom, clearer sight,
which from the old unfold the new.

With wider view, come loftier goal;
with fuller light, more good to see;
with freedom, truer self-control;
with knowledge, deeper reverence be.

Our man Sam is calling for us draw the circles ever wider, the circles of vision, and freedom, and knowledge, and goodness.

Not bad, Sam. I didn’t know this one existed, really, so it gets a Hidden Gem tag from me.

And when I am finally ready to preach on this, I have one of our hymns.

I am in a Lichtenstein painting: “Oh no! I forgot to read George Santayana!”

And I’m a bit embarrassed, largely because he wrote about spirituality and aesthetics, and this is the area of my ministry and while God knows I have read a ton of literature in my area of ministry, how is it I’ve never read – or frankly, been directed to read – Santayana. What’s crazy is that I know more about Orlando Gibbons, the 16th century English composer of our tune, than I do about 20th century Spanish philosopher Santayana.

Sometimes this spiritual practice of mine is an unexpected wake up call.

What it isn’t, today, is a love of this particular hymn. Now hear me out: I love the tune (Song 1) – partly because it’s Gibbons and partly because it’s another Vaughan Williams arrangement. And I love the lyrics. And I don’t even mind them together (their mood matches). What I don’t love is the same thing I didn’t love about our setting of Frost’s poem in O Give Us Pleasure in the Flowers Today: I want time to savor and explore and think deeply about the words, not rush through them because of the demands of the music. Seriously, take a few moments to delight in these words:

O world, thou choosest not the better part!
It is not wisdom to be only wise,
and on the inward vision close the eyes,
but it is wisdom to believe the heart.
To trust the soul’s invincible surmise
is all of science and our only art.

Our knowledge is a torch of smoky pine
that lights the pathway but one step ahead
across a void of mystery and dread.
Bid, then, the tender light of faith to shine
by which alone the mortal heart is led
unto the thinking of the thought divine.

And this leads me to wonder whether this should have been included instead as a reading – would it be used more, or less? I honestly have never used it nor remember ever singing it, but I wish I’d been more aware of it before now – not just because I haven’t read enough Santayana, but because I would have used it in at least three different services.

Grateful, however, for this practice.

Now off to read some Santayana.


I have a service I love to do called “Holey, Holy, Wholly” about the myth of wholeness and the grace of brokenness as a truer path to healing. It is one of those deeply pastoral services that fulfills the call to ‘comfort the afflicted’ – because we can’t always just ‘afflict the comfortable.’ I have a few hymns I like to do with this service, but some of my choices are, sadly, not ideal – they fall into that category of ‘general hymns, good for any occasion’. In other words, our hymnals aren’t teeming with pastoral hymns.

Except, surprise surprise, this hymn bubbles up – because using the first line as the title is rather misleading. How many of us have flipped past it, thinking it’s another “yay, we’re together” hymn? I sure have.

But this hymn – much like Jeanne Gagne’s “In My Quiet Sorrow,” which we’ll get to in late November – speaks to the person who comes to church for solace that day, not for celebration. It gives voice to the need to be seen and held in all of our brokenness and heartache. It reminds us that this too is part of life, and it shouldn’t be hidden away but rather held in community.

Though gathered here to celebrate,
my spirit’s burning low;
instead of serving, now I wait,
the breath of worship’s not too late,
breathe, let the embers glow.

There have been losses on the way;
a parent, partner, friend.
At times I need to grieve and say,
“I have enough to bear today,
be near and help me mend.”

The stillness strips the masks away,
exposes lonely hearts;
self-pity must not have its way;
I’ll live my life from day to day,
and now the healing starts.

I hate that it took until now for me to find this hymn – set to a lovely tune by Fred Wooden, which we last sang in January when one of my cats went in for surgery to remove a malignant tumor from his intestine (he’s fine now; his only problems now are living with my other cat again, and hairballs).

This hymn has gotten inside me. I hadn’t expected to be so deeply moved this morning – but I suppose that’s the grace of this or any spiritual practice.


Am I the only one who sees the first line of this song and thinks of “Man of Constant Sorrow” from O Brother, Where Are Thou? Really? It’s just me? Can’t be.

Anyway…  this is another one I have never sung, and likely never would have chosen because it’s got a title “This Old World” and is stuck next to Children of the Earth, both of which lead one to think they’re more about the planet than the people. To be honest, I’d have stuck this one in the Love and Compassion section rather than the Humanity section, because it’s really about how we love one another. But that’s me.

But check this out – sung to the Southern Harmony tune Restoration – it’s got a fair bit of seriousness and melancholy but also comfort and love in its tune, and in its lyrics. Lyrics I’m pretty much a fan of and have preached on without knowing it.

This old world is full of sorrow, full of sickness, weak and sore;
if you love your neighbor truly, love will come to you the more.

We’re all children of one family; we’re all brothers, sisters, too;
if you cherish one another, love and friendship come to you.

This old world can be a garden, full of fragrance, full of grace;
if we love our neighbors truly, we must meet them face to face.

It is said now, “Love thy neighbor,” and we know well that is true;
this, the sum of human labor, true for me as well as you.

Yes, there’s a bit of binary language in there – “brothers, sisters, too” – but here’s a thing: the words at the bottom of the page that say “Words: American folk tune” are usually a good indication that (a) this has been sung with varying lyrics long before we captured it and (b) no one’s going to mind if you change that to something like “siblings, cousins, too” and (c) that kind of fluidity is expected in this kind of folk tune.

In fact, as I just learned at, this is a song that has what are called “floating verses” – meaning the chorus (in this case, our first verse) stays the same, and then you float in other verses from other songs that fit the meter. In the examples Folklorist offers, we see verses of all kinds, including

Come, thou font of every blessing,
Move my heart to sing thy praise.
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.

…which fits perfectly and can float in along with other verses in meter. Which is really cool.

So…yeah. I like it a lot. A LOT.

And because I know it’s in your head, here’s Man of Constant Sorrow (song starts about 1:18):

I’ve been sitting here trying to troubleshoot a problem with the site in an attempt to avoid writing about today’s hymn.

But I know I must, so here goes.

I have problems with this hymn. Not because it’s set to an unfamiliar tune by noted Vietnamese composer Nguyễn Đức Toàn. (We also have from him the sad, haunting tune for Almond Trees, Renewed in Bloom.) And not because it’s weirdly repetitive. But because its lyrics, by Alicia Carpenter, is so godawful limiting.

I should note that Carpenter’s work has been and will again be praised in this series – she’s the author of Just as Long as I Have Breath, With Heart and Mind, We Celebrate the Web of Life, and several others. I mostly really like her work. A lot.

But this one really gets my goat.

We are children of the earth, children of the earth,
and we love our mother earth, love our mother earth.
From the mountain and the streams, from the flowing streams,
comes the fountain of our dreams, fountain of our dreams.

We dream of a village fair, of a village fair.
Laughing children playing there children playing there,
and our elders can be found, elders can be found,
here beside us safe and sound, always safe and sound.

There is nothing to desire, nothing to desire,
more than home and hearth and fire, home and hearth and fire,
in a village that we love, village that we love,
living side by side in peace, evermore in peace.

First verse, of course, is great. yay! Grounded eco-theology for the win. We’re earthlings, and we love where we come from.

Second verse, well, okay… sure, if we extend the metaphor of ‘village’ to be ‘wherever you most want to live’. And I like the multigenerational language – although the ‘safe and sound’ bit feels a bit patronizing.

Third verse: this is where it goes off the rails for me. All we want is home? Seriously? Are we so replete of aspiration that there is nothing more that we want? I mean, I get that for those without a home, a home is plenty. But even theologically, this doesn’t seem to work for me. It feels so limiting, so not aspirational – and for all the aspiration we have in our theologies, this is not it. It reminds me of a bit from Eddie Izzard’s Dress to Kill:

I grew up in the 70s, when the careers advisor used to come to school, and he used to get the kids together and say, “Look, I advise you to get a career, what can I say? That’s it.”

And he took me aside, he said, “Whatcha you want to do, kid? Whatcha you want to do? Tell me, tell me your dreams!”

“I want to be a space astronaut! Go to outer space, discover things that have never been discovered.”

He said, “Look, you’re British, so scale it down a bit, all right?”

“All right, I want to work in a shoe shop then! Discover shoes that no one’s ever discovered right in the back of the shop, on the left.”

And he said, “Look, you’re British, so scale it down a bit, all right?”

I want more. I want to wish for home and community, yes, but it’s not all I want And this lyric suggests I should only want those things. It’s most assuredly theological whiplash when you compare it to yesterday’s hymn, which celebrated human ingenuity and potential.

I MIGHT use that first verse someday, but not the rest.

I want more.

Like enough ingenuity to figure out why something here is broken.

So… I’m not sure about this one.

On the one hand, it’s a wonderful piece about our first source – our personal experience of awe and wonder, singing praise to the “star of truth”  – which is a wonderful name for that which some call God.

On the other hand, there seems to be a bit of humanist snark in the second verse – ‘though ancient creed and custom may point another way’ – which seems to point away from anything which some call God.

I guess my uncertainty lies in not being entirely sure who or what it is that lyricist Minot Judson Savage (who also wrote Seek Not Afar for Beauty) thinks we are singing praises to and why.

O star of truth, downshining through clouds of doubt and fear,
I ask beneath thy guidance my pathway may appear:
however long the journey, however hard it be,
though I be lone and weary, lead on, I follow thee.

I know thy blessed radiance can never lead astray,
though ancient creed and custom may point another way;
or through the untrod desert, or over trackless sea,
though I be lone and weary, lead on, I follow thee.

I’m prepared for dozens – baker’s dozens! – of you to have a clearer view of this hymn (set to a sweet Finnish melody called Nyland). I admit I’m a bit sinus foggy and headachy this morning, which never helps with clarity. And I’d welcome a discussion about the hymn.

The good news is that even headachy, the tune is sweet and it was a lovely song to start my day with. I sometimes have to remember that the experience of this spiritual practice does matter as much as the words I put on the page. And that experience was sweet.

As with any art form, the more you engage it, the more familiar you become with those who practice it – sometimes it’s easy, like discerning Picassos in the Modern Museum of Art. Sometimes it’s less so, requiring some familiarity – signature dance moves mark the difference between Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse, signature word patterns mark the difference between David Mamet and Aaron Sorkin, and signature guitar licks mark the difference between Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

(Good lord, they’re all white men up there… well, sorry, y’all. Sometimes white men happen.)

But back to my point… such is the case too with choral music. There are some choral composers and arrangers that have signatures – I would bet many Unitarian Universalists could pick out a Jason Shelton piece in a heartbeat. Ralph Vaughn Williams has a signature sound (as we’ve talked about many many times already and probably will again because we’re not done with him), as do other modern and more classical arrangers/composers. If we’re singing as a soloist or chorister, we cheer (or groan) at the name on the score. But sometimes, we hear a piece and a few measures in can tell “this is a Moses Hogan arrangement” or “dear god, more Benjamin Britten.”

And when it comes to 20th century sacred music from the Jewish tradition, every single time I hear a piece and fall in love instantly, it’s Max Janowski.

An opulent “Akeinu Malkeinu” sung by Barbra Streisand? Max Janowski.

A lush “Sim Shalom” sung by the Zamir Chorale of Boston? Max Janowski.

This  gorgeous prayer? You guessed it. Max Janowski.

Every single time I find a beautiful piece of Jewish sacred music, it’s Janowski. Now I’m sure thre are other great composers of Jewish sacred music, and I’m fairly certain I have sung and loved singing them. but just the opening measures of this simple song, based on an English translation of the Hebrew prayer Yih’yu’l’ratzon,” screams Janowski to those who know his work.

The prayer, said at the end of the silent prayer portion of a service, is an incredible prayer of repentance and renewal.

Who can say, “I am free, I have purified my great heart?”
There are none on earth. There are none on earth.
A new heart I will give, not stone, but one that frees.
A new heart I will give, and one that frees.

May this day make us strong like a tree of life with good fruit.
Bless us now, amen. Bless us now, amen.
May we now forgive, atone, that we may live,
may we now forgive that we may live.

“A new heart I will give.” Wow. As my colleagues are wont to say, “that’ll preach.” And I could, but I already waxed far too poetically about white men whose artistic endeavors I know and love (except for Britten – blech. I’ve only liked one of his pieces, a song from A Wealden Trio, but that may be more because of who I sang it with).

But the truth is, this piece moves me deeply, from the tips of my toes to beyond the top of my head. I feel this piece – the music and the prayer – deeply in my body. I have only ever sung it or heard it sung as a solo, and I think there is something about the solo voice on this that highlights the purity of this prayerful plea. And it’s possible I’ve gone on and on about Britten and Janowski because this almost doesn’t need any more words.


Postscript: Listen to that Aveinu Malkeinu – you will weep from its beauty. I do, every. single, time.

Image is of the Flame Nebula.

Confession time: I did not actually sing this today.

It’s not that I don’t like this hymn – I do. It’s that I have laryngitis and I physically can’t. That laryngitis – and the accompanying cold – is also why this is so late: I turned off the alarm so I could sleep. The good news is I am not preaching this weekend; the bad news is I am singing and doing a blessing of hands at Diana McLean’s installation – so I have to find the voice by Sunday afternoon. Fingers crossed!

Anyway, I said I like this hymn, and I do. First, it’s got a wonderful tune to sing – as Jacqui James notes in Between the Lines, it is one of seven traditional tunes for this text and “has been the accepted Friday evening tune in England for two centuries.”

The text is pretty wonderful too – without any context, this is a fantastic view into the transcendent God upon high that we find now and then in our hymnal. This is the God Luther sings to in A Mighty Fortress Is Our God and whom we see in Immortal Invisible and Immortal Love. A loving, strong, god-outside-of-us. A solid, Psalm 23 god. Very much an Old Testament god.  And…one that seems somehow present and connected to our more theistic theologies.

Praise to the living God! All praised be The Name,
which was, and is, and is to be, for aye the same.
The one eternal God ere aught that now appears:
the first, the last, beyond all thought or timeless years.

Unformed all lovely forms declare God’s loveliness;
no holiness on earth can e’er The Name express
whose love enfolds us all; whose laud the earth displays.
Yea, everywhere, above, below, is perfect praise.

The spirit floweth free, high surging where it will;
in prophet’s word did speak of old, and speaketh still.
The Torah rests secure, and changeless it shall stand,
deep writ upon the human heart, on sea and land.

Eternal life hath God implanted in the soul;
such love shall be our strength and stay while ages roll.
Praise to the living God! All praised be The Name
which was, and is, and is to be, for aye the same.

In context, however, it’s even more wonderful. I will quote James here, as her explanation of the hymn text is pretty awesome:

This text, originally named “The Yigdal” fo its first Hebrew word, is sun antiphonally by cantor and congregation at the close of Jewish worship on the eve of the Sabbath and other festivals. probably written by Daniel ben Judah Dayyan between 1396 and 1404, it is a versification of the thirteen articles of Jewish faith drawn up by Maimonides. A Christian hymn based on “The Yigdal,” written ca. 1770 by Thomas Olivers, and English Methodist preacher, was used in England and the United States. In the 1880s, Rabbi Max Landsberg of Temple Berith Kodesh in Rochester, NY, asked Newton Mann, minister of the Unitarian church there, to make a more exact translation. later, Rabbi Landsberg asked Mann’s successor, William Channing Gannett, to recast Mann’s version in traditional meter. That version, omitting one stanza, appears here in revised form.

Now I’m not sure what was omitted – and yes, the revisions are largely about gender – but I am both surprised and not that a rabbi and a Unitarian minister worked together on this. It feels both appropriate and connected.

I’m a fan. I just wish I’d had a voice to sing it today.


There’s a special announcement at the end of this post – but you have read it first. No cheating! (Like I’d notice, but really, what fun would it be? Especially since there’s a good hymn to talk about!)

This hymn, y’all. It’s not the most lush or most poetic, but don’t let aesthetics get in the way of an incredibly important message: STOP LIMITING GOD.

I know that it’s an easy trap for all of us – me included – to fall into. It’s what kept me from talking to God for over a decade, figuring that God was prey to human whims and conditions. But the day I realized, sobbing in my car with my snoring then-boyfriend in the passenger seat, that God speaks without limits, through all of creation, and loves abundantly, more abundantly than seven billion humans could begin to conceive – that day was a lightning bolt. If I were a 16th century German monk, I’d have fallen off my horse, it was that strong.

And even in the lyrics (by Frederick William Faber), the metaphors trying to help us understand the expansiveness are limited – “like the wideness of the sea” is a nice start and infinitely more imaginable than is the wideness of the Divine. But I venture that like me, standing on the shore of an ocean reminds you of that expansive, infinite whatever-it-is that is so much bigger than us.

There’s a wideness in your mercy like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in your justice which is more than liberty.

But we make your love too narrow by false limits of our own,
and we magnify your strictness with a zeal you will not own.

For the love of God is broader than the measures of our minds
and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.

I needed this hymn today. Those days when it’s rainy and dark, when the to do list is so long you have several of them cross referenced to keep track, when exhaustion and allergies and the unrelenting sadness and anger of the times beats down. Those days, a hymn like this, with its Sacred Harmony lilt, gets inside and pulls me out of the funk, at least for a moment, as I remember how wide, merciful, kind, and loving the Divine truly is.


And now, the announcement: I love engaging with you all in comments here and Facebook, and I thought it would be fun to engage in person… click here to learn more!

And…today’s image is from the Hubble – the Tarantula Nebula. Infinite indeed.

I wonder how many denominations have Duke Ellington in their hymnals?

A hat tip to our hymnal commission for finding a place for this piece. And, as I’ve talked about before, this fits in the ‘not every song in the hymnal is meant for the congregation to sing’ category – although I would love to be present in a congregation that knows how to sing jazz together.

Now I will admit, I only kinda knew this one before I got to it, which is a surprise, as my parents were huge fans of jazz from the big band era and the Harlem renaissance, and I am fairly sure this song was on one of the Ellington albums they owned. But maybe not – as I learned from reviewer Ken Dryden at All Music,

“Come Sunday” was the spiritual movement of Duke Ellington’s extended work “Black, Brown & Beige,” but after the longer piece was lambasted by critics attending its premiere at the 1943 Carnegie Hall concert, Ellington performed the complete work just once more before reworking it into a smaller suite.

So it’s possible this song only later found its way into collections. But either way, it’s not that familiar to me.

That’s not to say I don’t appreciate it now…wow, do I. I even appreciate its connection to Easter. I wondered, when I read that, why this wasn’t in the Easter section, but then I thought that would limit this amazing piece. But look at these words:

Oo Oo Come Sunday, oh, come Sunday, that’s the day.

Lord, dear Lord above,
God Almighty, God of love,
please look down and see my people through.

I believe that God put sun and moon up in the sky.
I don’t mind the gray skies, ‘cause they’re just clouds passing by.


Heaven is a goodness time, a brighter light on high.
(Spoken) Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,
(Sung) and have a brighter by and by.

I believe God is now, was then, and always will be.
With God’s blessing we can make it through eternity.

If that’s not a prayer for resurrection, I don’t know what is.

Now I can’t let this one go by without sharing a few versions. The first is from a church choir in Nebraska, whose version isn’t the most inspiring but helped me learn the song so I could sing it this morning.

This one is the incomparable Mahalia Jackson, singing with Sir Duke himself:

There are, of course, as many covers as there are jazz musicians. But I wanted to close with this little gem by Abbey Lincoln, complete with pops and scratches from the well-worn LP, that moved me to tears: