STLT#307, The Human Touch Can Light the Flame

Sometimes I sing a hymn and I think “it’s a fine hymn, but when would I ever use it?” (See the end for an important edit)

It’s a fine hymn. Another solid lyric by our friend, English Unitarian minister John Andrew Storey – a song of welcome, for sure, and a song of community and connection. And yet I’m not sure what kind of service would use a hymn like this; is it one when we talk about why we pass the peace? Is it one where we talk about John Donne’s “No Man Is an Island” and also include Simon and Garfunkel’s “I am a Rock”? Is it to boost the pastoral care team? I don’t know…. what do you think:

The human touch can light the flame
which gives a brightness to the day,
the spirit uses mortal flame,
life’s vehicle for work and play.

The lover’s kiss, the friend’s embrace,
the clasp of hands to show we care,
the light of welcome on the face
are treasured moments all can share.

May all who come within our reach
be kindled by our inner glow,
not just in spirit’s words we preach,
in human touch love’s faith we show.

The lyrics are set to a tune called Dickinson College written by Brooklyn native Lee Hastings Bristol in 1962; to me, it has all the markings of a “tune written in the style of Victorian hymns” – but with a syncopated twist. As I sang it, I found myself stumbling, as the half notes were not where I expected them to be, and I held some quarter notes longer than written. I can imagine congregations struggling to get the rhythm right, and how painful that would be.

So I don’t know. It’s a fine hymn, but I don’t know when I’d use it.

Edited to add this comment from friend and mentor Michael Tino, who makes a really good point that I’m sorry I didn’t think of:

I always pause when presented with lyrics that claim things like “all can share.” All? Hmm-maybe not.

Touch is touchy. For some, those instances of touch are intimate and lovely. For others, they are intrusive and reminders of past abuse.

This hymn had fine intent, with uncertain impact.

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