Hymn by Hymn

STLT#117, O Light of Life

This is a beautiful prayer. A needed prayer. An elegant prayer.

And I am sure, in the right hands, a beautiful and elegant tune.

I am not sure if it’s unfamiliarity that keeps me from accessing the melody, or just sustained high notes before coffee, but the tune doesn’t work for me in this moment. Especially when I realized that the tempo was marked much faster than I had been singing it.

That was weird, actually – because sung slowly (half note = 60 bpm), the prayerfulness of the lyrics shone forth; it was like singing a meditative chant (until the high notes, that is). When I realized the tempo was quite fast (half note = 92 bpm), it lost not only its meditative qualities but its import. I don’t know the lyricist’s or the composer’s intent – perhaps they meant it to be less of a prayer and more of a declaration. But the lyrics don’t say that to me, and my first look at the tune (before I saw the tempo marking through the pre-coffee haze) screamed slow and purposeful.

And here’s where I realize the truth I learned at a UU Musicians Network Conference in the mid 2000s: in hymnody, the score is a suggestion. I suggest you take the tempo as fast or slow as you like, and if you want a prayer, 60’s your best bet.

O light of life that lives in us,
help us to turn away from war,
reveal the hate that lives in us,
help us to live no more in fear.
Save us, save our children.

O light of love, rain down on us,
help us to heal our wounded world,
our dying forests, gutted plains,
smoldering cities, wasted fields.
Save us, save our children.

O love of life that lives in me,
help me to lift my head and sing,
let me know joy as well as pain,
see beauty in the rain and wind.
Save me, save my children.

O light and life and love in us,
help us to open eyes and ears,
reach out and listen, touch and love,
that we may stand in strength and peace.
Save us, save our children.

(Image is from a painting by Igor Zenin.)

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