STJ#1015, I Know I Can

There was a moment in 2013 when I learned how to be not just a preacher but also a pastor.

I had been scheduled to preach at the UU Congregation in Queens, a place I often preached, and because my date fell on Veterans Day, I saw this as a perfect opportunity to finally do a piece I’d been thinking about called Making Peace with War.

And then superstorm Sandy barreled through.

Most members of the Queens congregation were not directly affected, though a few were. And up in Morningside Heights where I was, the storm brought nothing but rain and a few hours of heavy wind. But after the storm had passed, we all realized how close we were to significant damage, and how little we could do at that moment.

I knew I couldn’t preach as planned, and I wasn’t entirely certain I could preach at all. Instead, I gathered some thoughts about what we might be feeling, with songs to help us through. I contacted dear friend and Queens music director Jed Levine, who was happy to change up the music. On the day, I dragged a stool to the front of the pews, invited folks to sit close, and I talked.

The energy in the room was full of fear and frustration, and there was a tenseness, along with that striking isolation of hunkering down. I know I felt it, wondering what I could do, wondering why I was so lucky when just a mile away people had lost so much.

That’s when we got to this song. We sang tentatively at first, but soon we found our voices and sang from deep in our souls.

And when we finished, it was better. The energy was better, we felt lighter, we knew something had changed and that we actually could go on.

The rest of the service continued to hold them – and me – as we made space for our feelings and our need to connect.

And I am grateful that this song helped me be a pastor.

Though days be dark with storms
And burdens weigh my heart;
Though troubles wait at ev’ry turn,
I know I can go on.

When sorrow heals my soul
And burdens make me strong,
Though troubles wait at ev’ry turn,
I know I can go on.

My sister in my heart,
My brother in my song,
Though troubles wait at every turn,
I know I can go on.

And though the journey is long,
The destination is near,
Though troubles wait at every turn,
I know I can go on.

So brothers take my hand,
And sisters sing my song,
When hope awaits at every turn,
I know we will go on.

A bit about the song itself, from the UUA’s Song Information page:

Written in the gospel style, and it is a collaborative effort between the composer, Jeannie Gagné, with lyricist, Rev. Dennis Hamilton, and arranger, Mark Freundt. It comes from hope, prayer, and a strong will. The melody came to Jeannie in about twenty minutes one evening, which she says happens rarely but when it does, she trusts it! They hope this hymn is as inspiring to sing as it was to write.

Now I am aware there is binary language here – I don’t know if the composers have offered different lyrics, but I hope there are suitable replacements for “brother” and “sister” forthcoming.

Meanwhile, I am grateful for this song – for what it taught me about who I am as a minister, certainly – but mostly for how it helped a hurting congregation one Sunday morning.

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Learn more about my ministry at The Art of Meaning

Read my thoughts about congregational life at Hold My Chalice


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