I was talking to friend and colleague Diana McLean yesterday about the moment I am fast approaching – the moment when I sing the last of the hymns in Singing the Living Tradition, and begin a 75-day trip through Singing the Journey. I remarked on the growth of this practice, and how it has shifted from purely my experience of singing to something of a resource.
But it’s more than that. What I realize is that in singing through this hymnal – lovingly assembled 24 years ago with a broad charge (make it more inclusive) – I have had the opportunity to see the shifts in our theologies, our congregational life, our work of justice. Twenty five years ago, the Cold War had just ended and a new, uncertain world lay ahead. The specter of the 21st century and the 50th anniversary of the Unitarian Universalist consolidation loomed in the distance. Thus, song choices to meet the moment might feel to us, well, not quite right (I think I need a good German word here because the English ones aren’t working).
But more, what I recognize is that when we hold STLT in our hands, we are holding evidence of the moral arc of the universe bending toward justice. Issues that come up for us now when we sing songs like Sit at the Welcome Table and Dear Mother-Father of Us All, and even Singing for Our Lives are evidence that we are growing, changing, becoming more and more expansive and seeking more and more justice. Sure, we have a long way to go, but wow, look how far we’ve come in such a short time.
And musically too, we’ve come far. Since STLT was published, a young UU Musicians Network has grown, encouraging new and vibrant hymns and other music; it has developed a credentialing program for music professionals; it has educated not only musicians but also clergy and lay people on the role of music in our faith. And, as I have often asserted, they have been writing our living theology. And thus, our music is shifting from being that which we inherited from our Protestant roots or the folk movement to being organically and authentically ours, reflecting who we are and who we want to be.
It’s amazing. And I don’t know that I would have gotten that had I not engaged this practice. It’s not done, of course, but it’ll be interesting to enter Singing the Journey with this in mind.
So… what about today’s hymn?
Not much, really. It’s a sweet recessional by Vincent Silliman, set to a tune from a Bach chorale. It’s light, but not quite as simple as one might expect. For me, a change to a different tune would make sense – I’d set it to Tom Benjamin’s Woodland (Down the Ages We Have Trod, among others). But that’s me. I think, given my discourse above, taking it off Bach and setting it on one of our own makes sense.
As we leave this friendly place,
love give light to ev’ry face;
may the kindness which we learn
light our hearts till we return.
Tomorrow, we sing the last song of this grey hymnal. Already. Finally.
The photo is of my well-worn hymnals, complete with bookmarks.