This is a beautiful benediction. A sustaining send-off. An alliterative affirmation.
What I love about the lyrics is the acknowledgement that this work is hard, and it’s always been good. Something I’m not entirely certain I noticed until now, as many times as I have sung this. (Another favorite of my former minister’s, plus another great tune by Tom Benjamin).
There’s that old joke – why are Unitarians so bad at hymn singing? because they are always reading ahead to see if they agree with the lyrics. Yet I think that even when we know the tune well, we tend to miss the nuance. And this is nuanced – this isn’t all ‘rah rah rah’ – it’s ‘this is hard. There will be pain, doubts, bitterness, fear – but take courage.
That this hymn is in the Exemplars and Pioneers section, of course, isn’t surprising. The hymn calls us to look to the past and see that it’s possible. And even though I am a middle-aged white woman, the first names that came to mind were Harriet Tubman and the newly resuscitated Frederick Douglass – heroes whom many in our nation seem to think only deserve notice one month a year, but whose contributions to love and justice are insurmountable and inspirational.
When I sing this hymn, I am reminded that our heroes aren’t heroes because it was easy, but because it was hard, and because they were right. This is indeed a hymn for our age – we need gentle, loving songs that hold us in our fears and still call us to putting our faith into action.
Be that guide whom love sustains.
Rise above the daily strife:
lift on high the good you find.
Help to heal the hurts of life.
Be that helper nothing daunts —
doubt of friend or taunt of foe.
Ever strive for liberty.
Show the path that life should go.
Be that builder trusting good,
bitter though the test may be:
through all ages they are right,
though they build in agony.
Be that teacher faith directs.
Move beyond the old frontier:
though the frightened fear that faith,
be tomorrow’s pioneer!