You say the words “ubi caritas” to me and my heart sings as I think of the many experiences I have had singing those words. And if you’re lucky (or unlucky, depending on your perspective), you’ll hear me waxing poetic about the lush music these words are often set to.

I don’t think it’s a mistake – the lyrics, which translate to “where charity and love abound, god is there” ask for a lush, rich, warm accompaniment.

Ubi caritas et amor,
ubi caritas, Deus ibi est.

And this Taizé piece delivers. Again, it’s not my favorite of the Taizé pieces (tomorrow, beloveds, tomorrow)… but it absolutely delivers. It’s another beautiful call to compassion – not just empathy, but the gifts of compassion: the money and things that help others. I love this as an offertory response, as well as a prayer response; as with other Taizé pieces, it should be sung several times so that harmonies emerge along with prayers and revelations.

But not surprisingly, not only is this not my favorite Taizé piece, it’s not my favorite Ubi. (Yes, I’m about to wax poetic.)

You get closer with the setting by 20th century French composer Maurice Duruflé , which I first learned in seminary and had the privilege of singing for the wedding of my dear friends Lindsey and AJ Turner. The Duruflé is gentle, until it soars with angelic precision, a descant floating over the melody until it grounds again, reflecting love within and beyond. Listen here:

But even that is not my favorite, despite its connection to my friends. No, my favorite is another version I learned in seminary, by contemporary Estonian composer Ola Gjeilo. This version has roots in Gregorian chant and early European choral music, yet with something else, something unnameable. The parts weave together intimately, evoking the intimacy of love in all its forms.

And then, at 1:58 on the video (measure 28), a miracle happens. I don’t know how Gjeilo did it, but he managed to compose a miracle, right there in the middle of a piece of choral music. I remember singing this with Glen Thomas Rideout at General Assembly in 2016 (Sunday morning worship), and the look on his face as he conducted that moment told me he felt the miracle too… and so did the rest of the choir, and so did the assembled. Listen for it:

Like I said: Miraculous.

Now I realize not much of this is about the Taizé piece this morning, but I think that the words themselves evoke something of a miracle. I think that when we remember that it is our actions that evoke and represent the love beyond our understanding, new abilities to love emerge. We can always love more, give more, empathize more. These songs help us do that.

We have just entered my favorite section of Singing the Journey: the spot where instead of spreading them out, we get a series of Taizé songs all together.

It’s my favorite section, although individually they’re not all on my list of favorites – not that any of them are bad, but some are beloved more than others. It’s like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours; there isn’t a bad song on the album (which has to be on most top ten lists), but I like “Songbird” a lot more than “Oh Daddy.”

But I digress. This song is so reassuring in its lyrics and melody; instead of the questioning of When I Am Frightened or the joyful affirmation of Trouble Won’t Last Always (not one of our hymns but wow I am glad I know it and you should go listen to it if you need a little joy, or just want to imagine some UU ministers-in-formation singing the heck out of it in seminary), this one is like a parent holding a scared child, or a reassuring hand while receiving a diagnosis, or the timely snuggle from a purring cat.

Or, as the song suggests, a sense of presence of the Divine, the Mystery, God.

Nada te turbe, nada te espante,
quien a Dios tiene nada le falta.
Nada te turbe, nada te espante,
Sólo Dios basta.

Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten.
Those that seek God shall never go wanting.
Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten.
God alone fills us.

Sung in repetition, harmonies emerging naturally, languages mixing, that is the power and beauty of this song and of all Taizé. I for one am grateful for the inclusion of these songs.

We have seen this before.

Well, not, entirely – in July, we sang a round based on the first two lines of Psalm 137, and noted that more would come. Well guess what – it’s time for more, and based on my searching, it’s not what we think.

First, let’s look at the lyrics and listen to the original recording, by The Melodians:

By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down,
and there we wept, when we remember Zion.
By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down,
and there we wept, when we remember Zion.

Where the wicked carried us away captivity,
required of us a song,
How can we sing King Alpha’s song in a strange land.

So let the words of our mouths
and the meditation of our hearts
be acceptable in Thy sight, O Farai.
So let the words of our mouths
and the meditation of our hearts
be acceptable in Thy sight, O Farai.

Now that you have your reggae groove on – a groove many in our congregations will be familiar with because it became a popular song in the 1970s, I should tell you that this version is not as straightforward as you might think, despite it being based on Psalm 137 (and a line from Psalm 19).

It’s not just Judaism set to a reggae beat, it’s Rastafarian – an Abrahamic religion of its own.

In a nutshell (albeit a hasty and not-well written nutshell – apologies), Rastas believe that Ethiopian emperor Haile Sallasie was at least a prophet, and possibly the second coming of Christ, and most certainly, in his role as emperor righting against colonization, the one who would lead a future golden age of eternal peace, righteousness, and prosperity; in this system, developed in Jamaica in the 1930s during British Imperial rule, Sallasie and his wife were called King Alpha and Queen Omega – the beginning and the end. Babylon then is any principality/government/system that oppresses, and the call of the faith is liberation.

Thus, this song, written in 1970, captures the Rastafarian spirit, the hope that we would be freed from exile and led into liberation and prosperity. According to one if the composers, Brent Dowe, the song was initially banned by the Jamaican government because “its overt Rastafarian references (‘King Alpha’ and ‘O Far-I’) were considered subversive and potentially inflammatory” – and yet, as we know too well, truth will out. And after its popularization in the Jimmy Cliff film The Harder They Come, the song spread far and wide.

What I love about the song is the hopefulness – something that is missing from the original psalm, which is by all accounts a lament. (In case you don’t know, the psalm was written while the Judeans were exiled in Babylon, a long hard time when they longed for their homeland.) Adding a sense of hope that there would be deliverance from exile, not just praying for it – offers a resolve that freedom will come, that our prayers are being answered.

Now in terms of using it in our congregations, the best advice I can give is what I give often: have good song leaders (and maybe drums and electric guitar), offer some context, and for goodness’ sake, don’t let it just be a cool pop music break. There’s deep meaning here, and the call is clear.

It’s a great song, used in Jamaican churches to this day. I hope we can expand our understanding of liberation and music by including this one in our congregation too.

Postscript: if you want to mix an appreciation of reggae with bingewatching, I highly recommend Death in Paradise, on Netflix; the score is almost entirely reggae music, and the show itself is great fun – mystery and comedy plus beautiful scenery.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” and thus begins my own story, A Tale of Two Memories.

The first memory of this song is set in a hotel suite in St. Paul, MN, where the inaugural group of students in the Music Leader Credentialing program gathered to talk about discernment and the call of this kind of ministry. The facilitator – who shall remain nameless but is, not surprisingly, white – invited us to hear the call of the Mystery in several ways. That section ended with, also not surprisingly, singing. We were asked to sing this song without context (except that it’s in STJ) and let it be the invitation to hear our call to music ministry.


Hush, hush, somebody’s callin’ my name.
Hush, hush, somebody’s callin’ my name.
Hush, hush, somebody’s callin’ my name.
Oh my Lord, oh my Lord, what shall I do?

Sounds like freedom, somebody’s callin’ my name…

Sounds like justice, somebody’s callin’ my name…

Soon one mornin’, death comes creepin’ in my room…

I’m so glad that trouble don’t last always…

The second memory of this song is set at Union Theological Seminary, in two chapels. The first is Lampman, a tiny space full of amber tones and gorgeous iconography, was where we met for a class on the spirituality of spirituals, led by a woman of color (who, for parity, shall also remain nameless). It was in that space that we learned about the deep call to freedom for enslaved Africans that these songs expressed, and how our singing – no matter how we identified – must carry that knowledge explicitly, recognizing that our own prayer must affirm theirs. At the end of the semester, our class conducted a chapel service in the large, seemingly cavernous James Chapel – we greeted folks outside in the narthex while our teacher sat at the back of the room, singing this song as a call to freedom, beckoning us to follow the hushed sounds and hear stories and songs of hope.


The End.

Image is of James Chapel at Union.


I think I first learned this song in high school, about the same time I heard about apartheid in South Africa. Yet I am pretty sure I never related the two – I know our music teachers didn’t do that, and at that age I wasn’t in a religious education program that helped me understand the world in context (I was in a youth group at a small non-denominational, more-or-less fundamentalist church where we talked bible, not justice).

I began to wonder, as I sought recordings of today’s hymn to share, and found mountains of YouTube videos of high school choirs, if music teachers are doing a better job of connecting the music they sing to the context the music comes from.

Because the context is rich – there is much we can learn about the United States past and present from examining South African apartheid, from the creep of discriminatory legislation to the ways in which resistance to those laws bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice.

And as we see over and over again, music makes a difference. We have talked about it here a lot – the enslaved Africans in America, the civil rights movement, Estonia’s singing revolution, and more. Music spreads, music informs, music reaches deep in and grabs hold of our spirits, music shifts our energy and can change our minds.

Oh freedom, oh freedom,
oh freedom, freedom is coming!

Oh yes I know, oh yes I know,
oh yes I know, freedom is coming!

Oh freedom, oh freedom,
oh freedom, freedom is coming!

Technically, this song – if unfamiliar – will require some good song leaders, as the power comes from the interwoven parts. Drums will help too. Each part is really easy, but the coordination of them can be complex – hence the contradictory singability tags.

But oh, is it worth it. This is such a joyful, lively, energizing song.

May all feel the freedom this song demands.

There are days when I am sure my ability to come up with the perfect search terms are to blame for my not finding what I seek.

Other days, I know I have the right terms, but nothing comes up easily and I either have to dig deeper into the rabbit hole, or assume there is no there there.

Welcome to my world this morning. And I don’t have a lot of time this morning to dig deep into the underground tunnels and hidden rooms of the internet to find a morsel of information about today’s song. Which is frustrating, because there’s not much I can say otherwise.

What I do know is that everyone, including STJ, attributes this as a Swahili folk hymn. I have found scores of scores – arrangements for voices, bands, handbells, drum ensembles. I even found the arrangement we use, from Gather, a Roman Catholic hymnal.

Bwana awabariki,
Bwana awabariki,
Bwana awabariki, milele.
Ukimcha Bwana.
Bwana awabariki.

May God grant you a blessing,
may God grant you a blessing,
may God grant you a blessing ever more.
*Revere the Lord.
May God grant you a blessing.

*insert personal words, i.e. “Thanks to our teachers,” “Peace to all nations,” etc.

What I can’t find is any evidence of it outside of a fairly comprehensive high school (and maybe church choir) market. I wish I had some links to its original form, some native Swahili speakers/singers, some history of the song as passed down and passed around. There isn’t even a note on the UUA Song Information page, which I’d been counting on.

So I guess, given that my time is short and I have nothing, really, I will offer my own two cents about use. First, while it is quite simple, it’s unexpected in its last phrase, and so will perhaps benefit best from having a choir sing it the first time used, then have a strong song leader teach it the next time it’s used. Also, percussion seems key to giving the song life. Finally, remember that is a folk song, so bring less formality and more joy.

Because at the end of it, it’s a joyful song, asking for blessings from that which some call God.

By the way, the image has no specific meaning – I searched under “Kenya” to see what came up, and I found these great meerkats, who made me giggle.

Let us live in peace… let us die in peace.


The song’s origins are, not surprising, found in the years following the attacks on 9/11:

This song is the inspiration of a Muslim residing in the United States, Samir Badri. Samir recruited the composer(Ted Warmbrand), a Jew, to set his words to a tune, after they both were featured at a Peace rally in Arizona before the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan and then Iraq.

As a song of peace in time of war, it is simply perfect.

And to me, considering how many are fighting ‘the wars at home’ – poverty, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, ableism – it is in fact a perfect song for today too.

Daoona nayeesh beesalaam;
daoona nayeesh Beeamaan;
daoona nansij;
daoona namoot beesalaam.

The English translation from Arabic:

Let us live in peace.
Let us live in inner peace.
Let us weave our dreams together.
Let us die in peace.

Imagine if we sang this with energy at marches and protests against discriminatory laws and tax scams. Imagine if we sang this as a lament at our vigils for transfolk being murdered, for people of color being denied justice, for what will now be a growing number of people dying from poverty and lack of health care, for families torn apart by deportation.

Imagine if we actually lived and died in peace.

Some useful musical/performance notes from the UUA Song Information page:

This song can been shared in different ways: Energetically, meditatively, with audience singing along (as echoes after each phrase), and/or with instrumental breaks allowing for English translation during the piece. It has been sung in 3/4, 12/8, and 4/4 time. Sometimes the composer adds the one word ‘tag’ “aHlaam” (dreams) only at the end and sometimes the song fades out with it. At other times he uses it as a bridge to return to the verse. When unaccompanied or with only percussion “aHlaam” can become a descant under the melody. It was put there to assure people could sing at least one word in Arabic. A pause can be added before the last line, “let us die in peace.”

The image is from Pixabay contributor Gerd Altmann – even though Pixabay offers royalty-free photos for editorial and non-commercial use without attribution, I wanted to name the photographer in this case because it is such a striking image.

Y’all took the joy right out of this one for me.

You know who “you” are – you who dislike this one, you who find the Zulu difficult, you who argue against the word “God” in the translation, you who think it’s overused or too cheesy, you who won’t use it for other reasons you will delineate in your comments.

You see, right before I went to prepare the coffee, I opened the hymnal, saw the title, and I started singing it while I cleaned the pot, added water, added grounds. As I got into the joyful groove, I started thinking about what to write, and I started reading in my mind all the comments you will be making, and by the time I poured my first cup and opened the laptop, all the joy was gone.


This is a joyful song of liberation. As written on the UUA Song Information page,

A South African freedom song that comes from the Apartheid Era. It is not clear whether the original composition was in Zulu or Afrikaans, although today we sing it in Zulu and English. It is said to have been composed by Andries van Tonder around 1950. However, we credit Anders Nyberg, musical director of Fjedur, a Swedish choral group, with discovering it on one of his trips to Cape Town. In 1984 he arranged it for a Western four-voice setting.

The structure of “Siyahamba” is cyclic rather than sequential. The lyrics consist of one phrase that is repeated with permutations. Cyclical forms emphasize a spirit of community and allow for a physical response during the performance. This may explain this song’s popularity as a processional and offertory as well as a protest or marching song. “Siyahamba” is appropriate for both sacred and secular settings for it could be sung, “We are standing in the light of peace.” The song may be accompanied by drums, bell, and shakers; and it can be sung a cappella with male voices which is favored by the Zulu tradition.

Joyful. This is supposed to be a joyful song, but in this case, criticisms I know this song faces (because I have heard them for real, not just in my imaginings) has made not only this part of the practice difficult, but also the singing part. I… I just wanted to be in that joyful place for a moment longer, as joy is so hard to come by lately.

Anyway. I like it and use a lot of words along with/instead of ‘marching’ – singing, dancing, praying, living, shouting, working, etc. etc. etc.

Siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenkhos’,
siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenkhos’.
Siya hamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenkhos’,
siya hamb’ ekukhanyen’ siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenkhos.
Siyahamba, hamba, siyahamba, hamba,
siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenkhos’.
Siyahamba, hamba, siyahamba, hamba,
siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenkhos’.

We are marching in the light of God,
we are marching in the light of God.
We are marching in the light of God,
we are marching in the light of, the light of God.
We are marching, marching, we are marching, marching,
we are marching in the light of God.
We are marching, marching, we are marching, marching,
We are marching in the light of God.

Now I for one will not be deterred, and I recommend the YouTube rabbit hole of Siyahamba versions. They span the globe, ages, and abilities. They are formal and informal, accompanied and a capella, inside and outside, but all joyful.

May you find something in this joyful South African song of freedom to bring you joy.

I woke up this morning with white women on my mind.

Specifically, white women who exist in a different paradigm than I (also a white woman) do, one that says a woman is made for a man and made to support and please him. A paradigm that says feminism is evil and that suffrage was a terrible thing. A paradigm that says the only reason to use this tool of evil (voting) is to support your husband’s opinion. A paradigm that says abortion is worse than murder, war, and sexual abuse.

It’s hard to wrap our theologically progressive minds around, no less our politically progressive minds. Where they see strict rules and hierarchies, we see many truths and equanimity. Where they see clear lines of right and wrong, we see many shades of gray. Where they see a world order set up the day Adam and Eve entered the garden, we see a world eager to shift and change and grow.

The women who voted for Roy Moore cannot understand for a moment why anyone would support a pro-choice, pro-LGBTQ Democrat, just as we struggle to understand why they would support someone who is a known sexual predator of teenaged girls and who refutes the rule of law in favor of a singular interpretation of a sacred text. They do not understand us, and we don’t understand them.

And yet, if we are, as yesterday’s song suggested, build bridges between our divisions, we must find ways to listen to one another, to be willing to listen to one another.

Which brings me to today’s song, a beautiful, simple, two part canon that is my favorite thing Nick Page has written.

Now I know it was written as “a reaction to the buildup of the invasion of Iraq” but I can’t help bring this song into this moment in our history, when the country is so strongly and deeply divided, so much so that we’re not even getting the same news, no less having the same ideologies. We are fighting with one another in a different kind of civil war (although ideologically connected to the war in 1861-65) in ways that widen the chasm between us. We are not living in peace in this country, and haven’t for a long time. And it’s getting worse.

So what will it take for our love to break boundaries?

When will the fighting cease?
When will we live in peace?
When our love breaks boundaries.

Da pacem Domine,
Do pacem Domine,
in diebus nostris.

(translation: “Give peace, Lord, in our time.”)

And so the work now is to figure out how to do this in ways that don’t demonize but rather hold those who are on the other side of the chasm. It’s hard, this progressive Universalism, and it calls us to do things that seem anathema; it calls us to love those who perpetrate evil – and to figure out what love looks like in those situations; it calls us to work tirelessly in the face of hate; it calls us to extend a hand to those who would bite it. But most of all, it does, as our pithy tshirts say, call us to love the Hell out of this world. The more we do that, the smaller the chasm becomes.

May we always use the tools of love – open hearts, open ears, open minds – to reach out and break boundaries.

There is a moment in the film The Princes Bride, where Westley, who has been mostly dead all day, is trying to figure out how he and his companions Fezzick and Inigo can storm the castle to rescue Westley’s true love, Buttercup. However, having been mostly dead, and having only just taken the miracle pill to revive him, Westley doesn’t quite have control of his body yet. However, the always helpful Fezzick takes note of his progress:

Fezzik: You just shook your head… doesn’t that make you happy?
Westley: My brains, his steel, and your strength against 60 men, and you think a little head jiggle is supposed to make me happy?

Yes, all seems lost, and something so little as a head jiggle seems like a drop in the bucket compared to the strength they need to win the day. And yet, that head jiggle is a sign of something better, stronger, more righteous to come.

Much like singing this song today. Lord knows the divisions we face today seem nearly insurmountable, and a little Quaker song is supposed to make it better?

Building Bridges between our divisions,
I reach out to you, will you reach out to me?
With all of our voices and all of our visions,
friends, we could make such sweet harmony.

And yet, this simple song with its haunting melody, written by Quakers in the face of nuclear proliferation, does make a difference. It does signal a call for something better. And if more and more people sing it, and mean it, maybe the divisions can be bridged. Yes, the song is not much more than a head wiggle…

…but then, so were the songs in Estonia nearly three decades ago. As described by the documentary The Singing Revolution, “between 1987 and 1991, hundreds of thousands of Estonians gathered publicly to sing forbidden patriotic songs and share protest speeches, risking their lives to proclaim their desire for independence. While violence and bloodshed was the unfortunate end result in other occupied nations of the USSR, the revolutionary songs of the Estonians anchored their struggle for freedom, which was ultimately accomplished without the loss of a single life.”

Yes, in the face of fear, anger, lies, cruelty, and the shattering of democracy… a little song, like a head wiggle, can make all the difference.