STJ#1008, When Our Heart Is in a Holy Place

I want to like this one.

Composer Joyce Poley is one of the sweetest human beings I ever met. She was open, generous, and kind to us UU Musicians Network conference newcomers. She had amazing insights when it came to song leading. And there is a sweetness to the music she writes.

And there is an earnestness to the lyrics; they want to be good and inclusive and expansive. They want to paint a picture of beloved community. There are some great lines, too – “we see our faces in each other’s eyes” and “trust the wisdom in each of us” are fantastic nuggets of insight.

But the truth is, I don’t like this song. And not just because of the grammatical oddity of “our heart”.

I don’t like it because it’s bad theology.

When our heart is in a holy place,
When our heart is in a holy place,
We are bless’d with love and amazing grace,
When our heart is in a holy place.

When we trust the wisdom in each of us,
Ev’ry color ev’ry creed and kind,
And we see our faces in each other’s eyes,
Then our heart is in a holy place.


When we tell our story from deep inside,
And we listen with a loving mind,
And we hear our voices in each other’s words,
Then our heart is in a holy place.


When we share the silence of sacred space,
And the God of our Heart stirs within,
And we feel the power of each other’s faith,
Then our heart is in a holy place.


At least it’s bad Universalist theology, because it’s creating conditions where none should apply. I’m reminded of this from Hosea Ballou:

“Your child has fallen into the mire, and its body and its garments are defiled. You cleanse it, and array it in clean robes. The query is, Do you love your child because you have washed it? Or, Did you wash it because you loved it?”

This song… this sweet song written by this sweet person… suggests that we are only loved, only holy, when we have been behaving in open and expansive ways. “We are blessed with love and amazing grace when our heart is in a holy place” reads the lyric. No. Just… no. We are blessed with love and amazing grace because our hearts are always and already holy places. Sure, we should do these other things, but the conditional nature of this lyric is just… wrong.

I’m sorry, Joyce, I don’t like your song.


  1. I find your analysis a little over the top–after all, there is no “only” in the text; it says “when”, repeatedly, not “only when” or not even “because”.. I see the text as a description of those occasions in group worship (or other group experience) when some kind of positive and expansive energy flows through us; if it did say “only” I’d agree with you. (I’m with Amy Zucker Morgenstern above about the tune, by the way, and I don’t find the interaction of the tune and text particularly interesting, but then, that’s a feeling I have about so many tunes and texts in this and other hymnals…..maybe I’m just too picky!)

  2. I’m with you on this one, Jim! Well, at least the first part. This hymn has replaced Spirit of Life as my second favorite hymn. (For the Earth Forever Turning will always be my favorite.)

  3. completely off the subject, but I can’t figure out where else to ask–I see that people have pics next to their names–how do I do that so I no longer look like a white blob?

  4. Thank you for acknowledging one of my pet peeves, which is the grammatical weirdness of this song. It drives me around the bend every time I see it. Why??? It would be so simple to fix this without changing the meaning (agreed also that it’s dubious, theologically): “when our hearts are in a holy place….”

  5. I got curious to see everything on Kimberley’s Nope List and learned something: Every one of these eight posts also has at least one comment. I’m not sure what it means, but I think it means something.

  6. I like this song because of who taught it to me, because it is easy for children and other who are not theologically or verbally sophisticated to “get” and because as a rotten singer, I can sing it. Because the tune is easy I don’t have to think about hitting or missing notes, I can think about the words and let them warm my simple heart.

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