If this spiritual practice (and yes, I still consider it a spiritual practice first and foremost) has taught me anything, it’s taught me that we are an aspirational faith. Even those hymns which were once cutting edge and are now problematic show us the truth of our assertion that revelation is not sealed – as we continue to expand our knowledge and our minds, the circle growing ever wider.
I mention this because on a day when the last thing we need are songs about love, on a day when what we need is the next ten words, and the ten after that, which tell us what to do next… we get a song about love. I admit, I groaned. What ever am I going to write, when this is the last thing we need?
And yet, as I sang, I realized that this aspirational faith (and this spiritual practice that seems to be conspiring with current events to put not the hymn I want but the hymn I need in front of me) has given us one of the most beautiful songs we have, about love, yes, but about more. It not only talks of joining together in love, but it gives us the next ten words – namely “we pledge ourselves to greater service, with love and justice.”
We would be one as now we join in singing
our hymn of love, to pledge ourselves anew
to that high cause of greater understanding
of who we are, and what in us is true.
We would be one in living for each other
to show to all a new community.
We would be one in building for tomorrow
a nobler world than we have known today.
We would be one in searching for that meaning
which bends our hearts and points us on our way.
As one, we pledge ourselves to greater service,
with love and justice, strive to make us free.
I need this aspiration of love and justice, of coming together to show the world what beloved community really looks like. And yes, if you’re just waking up to our nation’s long and ugly history of hate and violence, well, we’ll ignore the fact that you’re late to the party and just be glad you showed up at all. This song is for you, calling you in to consider what’s beyond the flurry of pink hats and emails to your Congress critters. A reminder of what you are just now discovering. A call to keep showing up. A call to work, to learn, to listen, to pray, to sing.
Now if you’ve been on the front lines, in the trenches, boots on the ground and in the streets, teaching and preaching until you’re blue in the face, this song is for you too. A reminder what that hard work is about. A call back to our hearts and our beliefs. A reminder that we are not doing this alone, and if it feels like you are, look around and find others who will work with you, teach with you, listen with you, pray with you, sing with you.
And if you haven’t been doing anything, this song is for you as well. A reminder of what must be done, a reminder that we all find our own way to serve “that high cause of greater understanding of who we are and what in us is true.” A reminder that you don’t have to do this alone, and if it feels like you are, look around and find others who will help you, teach you, guide you, work with you, pray with you, sing with you.
And in it all, yes, a call to love. Because love isn’t fluffy pink hearts and slo-mo runs through a sun-dappled meadow. Love is a verb. Love calls us to act. Love calls us to build “for tomorrow a nobler world than we have known today.” If the way we enter all of this work is paved with love, then we are well grounded as we answer love’s call.
For completeness’ sake, I should mention that the lyrics (set to the Finlandia tune by Jean Sibelius) were written by Unitarian minister Samuel Anthony Wright, for Unitarian and Universalist youth at their Continental Convention of 1953-54. As Jacqui James notes in Between the Lines, “At this conference they merged to form the Liberal Religious Youth of the United States and Canada, setting a model for the Unitarian Universalist denominational consolidation in 1961.” We would be one, indeed.
Very much enjoy your history of our hymns. Thank you. – Chris
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