I was expecting this to be a difficult song to learn – enough times, that “Irregular” at the bottom of the page signals complex rhythms and intervals.
Yet once I got into it, and I felt the 9/8 rhythm (which is really a glorious 3/4), the song suddenly felt familiar, in a way that makes me wonder if I’ve heard it or sung it before. I can’t identify the time or place, yet it feels familiar in my bones.
Perhaps this is the beauty of folk tunes – this one from the Philippines. Our hymnal says it is a Visayan, or indigenous Filipino folk tune. I believe that’s true, but I don’t want to discount that this tune might have some Western European influence, given the Spanish conquest in 1521, which didn’t end until the Spanish-American War in 1898 (when the US took over until the end of World War II).
At any rate, what I know is that the tune has a familiar feel, and given that it was easy to sing (easier than expected), I reveled in the lyrics while I was singing – as we know, that rarely happens on the first go of a song.
I mean, look at these words, based on a text from Bishop Toribio Quimada, who founded the Universalist (now Unitarian Universalist) Church of the Philippines:
O, the beauty in a life that illumines honor anew,
that models wise and gracious ways to every seeker;
that every day shall serve in joy and do the right.
O, praise the life whose beauty shows a justice true.
Let not service of the good be confined to great saints alone,
but every hour be part of all our daily living.
Set not the hope of wisdom’s grace beyond our ken;
how wide the path, how close the goal, which love has shown.
O, the beauty of a life that illumines care of the soul,
that knows a love that is for self as well as others,
that every day embodies praise for every good,
this is the faith to which we turn, our God and goal.
How glorious, this call to justice. How elegant, this call to beloved community. How joyful, this call to love and faith and good.
We need this today – to turn to our Faith and allow it to illumine our souls so that we might do the work we are called to.
The photo is of the UU Church of the Philippines in Doldol, in the Negros Islands region.