Hymn by Hymn: Al Fine

Well, here we are.

A total of 490 hymns over 484 days. Yowza. When I started this spiritual practice, I knew I could finish if I found a way to hold myself accountable. Blogging, and sharing the blog on social media, was my accountability.

And wow, what an experience.

First of all, I can now say I have sung everything in our hymnals, even the ones that I stumbled through and really didn’t get my arm – and vocal cords – around. I know that the act of singing each morning got some kind of energy moving. And even on mornings when I didn’t think I felt like doing it, I never really didn’t ever want to do it (well, maybe right after the 2016 election, but no one wanted to do anything except turn back time).

Over the course of this practice I’ve written about gendered language, the language of Empire, cultural misappropriation, calls to justice, meandering lyrics, and awkward rhymes. I’ve waxed poetic about favorite songs, favorite composers, favorite lyricists, favorite messages. I’ve sung through the darkest days and the brightest. I’ve shared personal stories and collective ones. I’ve linked to dozens of video versions, and I’ve bemoaned the lack of tune recordings. I’ve discovered some new favorites and those I would never use. I’ve considered just how far we’ve come on this arc of justice – a journey reflected in our theological and linguistic choices.

Perhaps most importantly, I have learned that you all care about our hymns as much as I do – you have shared your passions, your curiosities, your information. We have occasionally disagreed but more often have engaged our collective joys and curiosities. Your desire to know more led me to offer more song information, but also some tagging to help you find hymns or know more about their character. Some of you have made this daily blog your own spiritual practice, and some of you have let me know how much it’s meant to you. Some of you have encouraged me to publish a book based on this series, which is something I’m working toward.

On a personal note, I took up this spiritual practice 16 months ago, knowing that if nothing else, it would keep me singing. It has, but it has done more than that. The time to sing, and to contemplate my experience of singing – being mindful of the thoughts and feelings and ideas that came up – has connected me with my personal faith and my heart’s deepest joys and sorrows. It’s also connected me to some who have been intimately engaged in the writing of the music or the curation of the hymnals; it’s helped me feel a deeper connection to both our denomination and to my call to ministry.

These songs – by and large – are beautiful, inspiring, comforting, enlivening. I have felt all those things and more as I have sung and shared.

I do want to take a moment to thank some people – Heather Petit, for having the idea to do this in the first place; Michael Tino, for your support and engagement; to the Hymn by Hymn Live folks who joined me at General Assembly – Monica Dobbins, Lyn Cox, Karen Eng, Marcia Stanard, Katy Carpman, and Katie Kandarian-Morris; Mark Belletini, for sharing stories and insights about the creation of STLT; the composers who shared their stories and insights with me – Sarah Dan Jones, Fred Wooten, Jason Shelton, and others that I’m forgetting; and of course my faithful readers.

It has been a joy and a privilege to share my spiritual practice with you.

Fine.

So what’s next?

I’ve been trolling around for ideas; at first I thought I would do some other songbooks, but that feels exhausting right now. Then there was a consideration of doing some Christian lectionary work, but that feels too narrowly focused. An expansion to multiple sacred texts is interesting – the Tao Te Ching, the Bhagavad Gita, the Psalms – but again feels not quite right. Or, more importantly, too similar to the Hymn by Hymn practice.

I have now stumbled upon the next right thing, thanks in part to my finally putting away some books that been sitting in a box for far too long, on the same day that I wondered why I was spending hours looking for the right reading when I could just write my own, and feeling a bit daunted by the prospect.

The book is The Ode Less Traveled: Unlocking the Poet Within, by the most excellent British person in the history of British people, Stephen Fry. It’s in many ways a textbook on poetry, complete with exercises to do to become a better poet. As I pulled it out of the box, I was then reminded of Erik Walker Wikstrom’s book Simply Pray, in which he offers some chapters on how to write prayers. And as I put all those things together, the John Denver song “Poems, Prayers, and Promises” came to mind.

And so after a short break (because I have most assuredly earned it), I will begin a new practice, of writing poems, prayers, meditations, and other short pieces for spiritual and liturgical use. I make absolutely no promises that any of it will be good – I can write rich and graceful prose all day long, but I struggle with poetry of any sort. I also know that trying to write a new piece every day will be difficult, so while I commit to writing every day, I will probably only publish once or twice a week. But I do promise to make a year-long commitment to the writing, because sheer repetition will make me a better lyrical writer.

And so… on Ash Wednesday, since that seems as good a starting point as any, I will begin Poems, Prayers, and Promises. I hope you’ll keep reading.

7 Comments

  1. I am so glad you took this up. What a gift to you and a gift to us. Congratulations, and I am looking forward to getting a glimpse into your next practice! <3

  2. I loved every minute, every day of following along with you on this remarkable journey. Thank you for sharing it and allowing those of us in the peanut gallery to ride along. Although the Hymn by Hymn blog will be a treasured online resource for some time to come, I also would love to see it in hard-copy published format — sign me up for a few copies! Signing off now (at least, until you start your new project), in admiration and with gratitude…

  3. I join your other fans in thanking you for the daily practice you undertook, which served as a (sort of) daily practice for me as well — reading your words, and usually following the links to hear the music. Thank you so very much for doing this! We usually think of a daily spiritual practice as a solitary endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be, and you have shown us an example of something refreshingly new. I hope to meet you some time. Meanwhile… will the e-mail notifications for this blog continue into your next one?

  4. Thank you, Kimberley! I found your blog just a few months ago, and am grateful for all the resources you’ve shared through your spiritual practice. You inspired me to dig more deeply into the history of our hymnals and hymns, and make the stories behind the music part of my sermons. I hope you’ll keep your posts online.

    With gratitude,

    Victoria

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