It’s a song for our time, this one.
Now it sits in the middle of the mystical and meditation section, but it’s really a fight song, a reminder that we have to keep getting up off the mat, to always be open, to revel in that which brings us joy but not forget that there is work to be done so that all may feel joy.
Although this life is but a wraith,
although we know not what we use,
although we grope with little faith,
give me the heart to fight and lose.
Open my ears to music,
let me thrill with spring’s first flutes and drums —
but never let me dare forget
the bitter ballads of the slums.
Ever insurgent let me be,
make me more daring than devout;
from sleek contentment keep me free,
and fill me with a buoyant doubt.
From compromise and things half-done,
keep me, with stern and stubborn pride;
and when, at last, the fight is won,
O, keep me still unsatisfied.
I just wish the tune kept me satisfied — I think this is another case where struggling with an unfamiliar tune obscures the power of the lyrics. The tune may be familiar to others, but I plunked through, having found no recordings of it (Small Church Music has this one with a licensee that isn’t valid in the US), but it wasn’t clicking for me. To get full effect, I confess I sang it to O Waly Waly, which seemed an appropriate substitution. Once I did that, I felt the strength and resolve of these lyrics by Louis Untermeyer, who also wrote the equally compelling May Nothing Evil Cross This Door. As a pair, these two hymns – while not written by a Unitarian Universalist – seem to embody much of who we are and what we want to be.
This is not a quiet prayer. This is a reminder to our souls to answer faith’s call to action. And more, it’s a reminder that the work may actually never really be done: “when at last the fight is won, O keep me still unsatisfied.”
In other words, stay woke.