STLT#77, Seek Not Afar for Beauty

This hymn made me giggle with a little delight and a little theological tee-hee this morning.

First, the giggles of delight – I love the Coolinge hymn tune (I got too caught up in Robert Frost the last time this came up to mention it), and thus, anything set to it already has a leg up. It’s a lovely, flowing, interesting but not at all confusing melody. This is also a tune I associate with the minister who helped me discern my call, Linda Hoddy – she often used another hymn set to this tune, From All the Fret and Fever of the Day (number 90), and I have fond memories of her service to my home congregation – particularly the music and creativity.

And so jumping in to sing was easy – no awkward plunking out of notes on the keyboard app on my phone, no hunting through hymnody websites for a recording of the tune. I was able to dive right in without a second glance at the melody, so that I could read and sing the lyrics confidently.

Seek not afar for beauty; lo, it glows
in dew-wet grasses all about your feet,
in birds, in sunshine, childish faces sweet,
in stars and mountain summits topped with snows.

Go not abroad for happiness; behold
it is a flower blooming at your door.
Bring love and laughter home, and evermore
joy shall be yours as changing years unfold.

In wonder-workings or some bush aflame,
we look for Truth and fancy it concealed;
but in earth’s common things it stands revealed,
while grass and flowers and stars spell out the name.

I then giggled, because here’s another ABBA rhyme scheme, which I have a rule about. And I feel conflicted, because I love this hymn but the off-kilter rhyme caught me every time I ended a verse; after getting to “unfold” I actually stopped and looked at the lyrics and giggled when I saw the ABBA, knowing I once gave it a pass. But as much as it bugs me, I still am into this hymn.

Mostly because of the theological reason I started to giggle.

Go back and read the first and second verses. I’ll wait.

[Kimberley hums “Girl from Ipanema” to herself]

Okay, so you see how wonderfully sixth source/seventh principle it is? Lovely! Celebrate nature and the happiness it brings, look at how easy it is to find love and blessings. Very earthly, very humanist-in-nature. Awesome. Now look at the third verse.

Why look – it invokes Old Testament miracles. It invokes a Creator. Commence theological giggling. Yes, this is a theistic hymn. And what’s interesting is how many of these hymns in the “World of Nature” section ultimately are. It’s not surprising, given how theistic and rather Christian many of the transcendentalists were. We forget that, because the left turn Emerson and Thoreau took was so radical for its time. We remember how focused on humanity and nature they were, and we forget how theistic they were. So I delight in hymns like this that sneak in the reminders of our theological foundations.

Plus, this hymn really works for me and my theology – as I suspect it does for many Unitarian Universalists. But it’s a real lesson in ‘read all the lyrics’ – just as some titles mislead, sometimes the turn of the poem and the meaning of the piece doesn’t happen until the last verse.

Tee hee.

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