On December 9th, this tune first appeared, and I suggested that “later in the hymnal, we sing the usual words.” Well, that ‘later’ is today, and while the first three words are the same as the usual words, that is where ‘usual’ ends. And so I stand here in my wrongness being wrong.
And thank all that is holy that I am.
You see, the original words – from a Dutch hymn written in the 1600s, when they were fighting for their independence from the Spanish – are quite different:
We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.
The original is a song of liberation, and gets tagged onto Thanksgiving only around World War I, as it appears in American hymnals only around 1903. The lyrics continue, by the way, in the same “God is on our side in this conflict” vein. Which makes its association with the Thanksgiving holiday even more awful. ::::shudder::::
So much for the usual song with the usual words.
Thankfully, two modern-day Unitarian Universalists, Dorothy Caiger Senghas and Rev. Robert Sengas, wrote new lyrics, for a Thanksgiving Sunday.
We gather together in joyful thanksgiving,
acclaiming creation, whose bounty we share;
both sorrow and gladness we find now in our living,
we sing a hymn of praise to the life that we bear.
We gather together to join in the journey,
confirming, committing our passage to be
a true affirmation, in joy and tribulation,
when bound to human care and hope — then we are free.
Now this is a Thanksgiving hymn I can get behind. Sure, it’s in the Hope section, but it is definitely worth putting on the Thanksgiving list too. And if you really want to do it right, sing the first verse as your opening words and the last verse as your closing words, because they would frame a message of gratitude calling us together and calling us onwards to the work of our faith.
One response to “STLT#349, We Gather Together”
I love this one. The last line is so important to me, and a message our individualistic UU culture needs to hear over and over if it is to be countercultural instead: that as paradoxical as it seems, it is only in binding ourselves to each other that we find true freedom.
I don’t remember if I heard this story in “Between the Lines” or from Bob Senghas himself or somewhere else: he was planning a Thanksgiving service in 1963 when . . . well, we all know what happened six days before Thanksgiving in 1963. How could they have a standard service of praise and gratitude when they and the country were still reeling from grief? So he and his wife Dorothy rewrote this hymn to acknowledge sorrow and tribulation.