STJ#1051, We Are…

More than once during my years at Union Theological Seminary, I said to myself “what is my life even like?” because of some improbable experience or another. To be clear, I didn’t choose to go to Union because of the possibility of meeting important or famous people;- I went because of the possibilities awaiting me in my journey to become a minister and, more importantly, a more fully faithful human being. Yet when I look back, I don’t know how I missed the fact that choosing Theology and the Arts as my program focus would lead to meeting important or famous people – or more, would lead to my sitting next to them in a small class and being told who I am.

Dr. Ysaye Barnwell had been on campus all day; she lead a community sing for our chapel service, consulted with a couple of PhD students in the afternoon, and that evening was the guest for a class I was taking on Worship and the Arts. The small class sat with our tables pushed together to form a circle that was really a square, and there we had amazing conversations about various art forms and how they inform our worship. Dr. Barnwell was with us to talk about  the power of community singing. To my surprise, she sat directly to my right. On the outside, I was pleasant and cool, on the inside I was jumping up and down like a five year old, so excited to be this close to someone whose music I’d been so connected to for three decades.

I don’t remember the conversation in any depth; I remember that on the first topic, I spoke a few times, and knowing that, I consciously moved back for the second topic to allow others to speak. At some point, a tangentially related story occurred to me, but I sat on it, knowing it wasn’t strictly relevant, and anyway, I had already spoken. I would wait until something more relevant and more pressing came to mind.

Dr. Barnwell wasn’t here for that, however. A few times she glanced at me as if in invitation, but I deflected it and the conversation continued. But finally, she looked straight at me with that Auntie Stare and said “go on.” I stammered something about no, it’s fine, it’s not important or some such nonsense. Which she rejected, saying “speak. You’re wearing your words on your face.”

Oh.

So I spoke. (How could I not?) And while the story I told (“Listening for our Song” by David Blanchard) wasn’t exactly on topic, it moved our conversation to a new, deeper topic. Afterwards, Dr. Barnwell thanked me for sharing that story, and with a twinkle in her eye, told me not to be afraid that what I have to say isn’t important. It was like she looked into my soul and saw who I am – perhaps the first time I’ve ever experienced that sort of knowing from someone who barely knew me.

Anyway. This song.

For each child that’s born,
a morning star rises and
sings to the universe
who we are.

For each child that’s born,
a morning star rises and
sings to the universe
who we are.

We are our grandmothers’ prayers
and we are our grandfathers’ dreamings,
we are the breath of our ancestors,
we are the spirit of God.

We are mothers of courage and fathers of time,
we are daughters of dust and the sons of great visions,
we’re sisters of mercy and brothers of love,
we are lovers of life and the builders of nations,
we’re seekers of truth and keepers of faith,
we are makers of peace and the wisdom of ages.

We are our grandmothers’ prayers
and we are our grandfathers’ dreamings,
we are the breath of our ancestors,
we are the spirit of God.

For each child that’s born,
a morning star rises and
sings to the universe
who we are.

It’s beautifully transcribed for our hymnal so that you don’t need all the rhythmic parts (even though I sing the bass line every time just because it’s so fun). It’s hopeful and full of possibility. I love it, and I hope congregations use it even if it seems scary on the page. The beauty is that it’s very repetitious, and once you get the rhythm and the flow, it’s a breeze to sing.

And it’s got a beautiful origin story; this, from the UUA Song Information page:

This is the last song in a suite that began with the lyric, “Lawd, it’s midnight. A dark and fear filled midnight. Lawd, it’s a midnight without stars.” Dr. Barnwell wanted to create a complete circle of experience, and so she wrote “for each child that’s born, a morning star rises…” This phrase is meant to establish hope, and it defines the uniqueness of each one of us. No matter what our race, culture or ethnicity, each one of us has been called into being and are the sum total of all who came before. In the composer’s words, “Each and every one of us stands atop a lineage that has had at its core, mothers and fathers and teachers and dreamers and shamans and healers and builders and warriors and thinkers and, and, and…so in spite of our uniqueness, we come from and share every experience that human kind has ever had. In this way, we are one.”

Amen.

 

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