STLT#194, Faith Is a Forest

Shelley Jackson Denham is a denominational treasure.

This hymn was commissioned by the hymnal commission, and wow, did she deliver. I know some might avoid this one because it’s an unfamiliar tune, but trust me when I say that (a) it’s not that difficult – although you definitely don’t want to just spring it on a congregation and (b) the tune is absolutely perfect for Denham’s lyrics.

And I wonder if one of the reasons it is perfect is that the open fourths and rhythmic patterns make room for the meaning. I know in earlier posts I’ve complained that unfamiliar tunes mean folks might miss the lyrics in favor of trying to pick out the notes. And that might happen here too, initially. But there is a particularly beautiful marriage of word and melody here that gives an expansive feel to what Denham names as faith.

Faith is a forest in which doubts play and hide;
insight can hear the still small voice deep inside.
Web of Life, may this thread I weave
strengthen commitment to all I believe.
Vision be my guide as I seek my way,
lead me into this tender day;
Speak through me in all I do and say.

Seeds of both meek and strong are scattered in air;
dignity shines undimmed by bigotry’s glare.
Web of Life, may this thread I weave
help me bear witness to all I believe.
Justice be my guide as I seek my way,
lead me into this tender day;
speak through me in all I do and say.

Fortune and famine ride the swift winds of chance;
sorrow and pleasure seem united in dance.
Web of Life, may this thread I weave
mingle compassion with all I believe.
Mercy be my guide as I seek my way,
lead me into this tender day;
speak through me in all I do and say.

Really, this is a beauty.

One more note: that the penultimate phrase is “lead me into this tender day” speaks volumes. It is poignant and elegant, especially in these long tender days.

4 Comments

  1. Hi, I just heard this hymn for the first time in a Unitarian church service. I was surprised because the tune is in fact familiar to me. It is from a Chinese song called Jasmin Flower. Is this a common practice for hymns to borrow from existing folk songs? I think it is an impressive and beautiful recycling. It just occurred to me that some may not realize it is a reinvented song.

  2. Pingback: 5-16-2021 Order of Service » Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship

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