What is UU Music?

Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence

David A. Mix Barrington and Mike Nagy

11 December 2011

These are texts for the lay-led service that I led 11 December 2011.


(from song lyrics by Robert Wadsworth Lowry)

My life flows on in endless song above earth's lamentation.
I hear the real though far-off hymn that hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife I hear the music ringing.  
It sounds an echo in my soul.  How can I keep from singing?


Today's meditation is from a song by UU kindred spirit Michael Franti:

Listening is understanding
and finding compassion
love is the action of soul satisfaction
a tongue can make wishes and also fine kisses
taste a sweet cake and also cast disses
but nothing compares to the voice from within
without it we might just be mannequins
up to no darn good shenanigans
learn to be skilful movers of the stones
that block the heart and turn humans to clones
learn to forgive, set free the bones
touch with your flesh, take off the rubber gloves
love like your life depends on it
because it does


Our first reading is taken from the forwards of the two Unitarian Universalist hymnals in front of you. In the 1993 "gray hymnal", Singing the Living Tradition, the UU Hymnbook Resources Commission writes:

We knew very early that no single criterion could determine what materials should fill this book. Differing understandings of taste and relevance exist throughout the Unitarian Universalist Association and shall continue to do so. Governed by our charge to produce an inclusive hymnbook, we took the Principles and Purposes of our Association as the touchstones of our decision to proclaim our diversity. In structuring and indexing the book, we used as guides the five sources of our living tradition and seven principles. Inspired by various liberation philosophies, cross-cultural perspectives, and ecological awareness, we sought to express a full range of spiritual imagery. Most notable is our use of feminine imagery for the divine. We applied similar inclusive insights to carols and some familiar hymns so that our tradition is not merely received. Each selection has its place within the wide embrace of our heritage and vision.

UUA President William Sinkford, in the forward to the 2005 "teal hymnal" Singing the Journey, writes:

Something amazing has happened over the last decade. I've seen congregation after congregation singing hymns without reading from the hymnal, hymns like "Spirit of Life", "Come, Come, Whoever You Are", "We'll Build a Land", and "Gather the Spirit". These and a few others have come to shape our worship and give voice to our theology as we move into this new century.

[…] Singing in community has been central to worship in our tradition for thousands of years. Some of the earliest recorded "hymns" we know now as the Psalms of the Hebrew Bible. Song allows us to name the Holy, to give thanks, to acknowledge both joys and sorrows. We praise, lament, ask for support, and commit ourselves to making justice through song. Singing helps our very "heady" faith find its loving heart. Singing in community brings us together and lets us known that we can raise a clear and unified voice. And we know that a congregation that loves to sing is almost always a vital and strong religious community.

[…] I trust that we will come to love these hymns, and in time, to sing them passionately without looking at this book.


The second reading is taken from musician and activist Pete Seeger, from the end of the musical film Pete Seeger -- The Power of Song:

Once upon a time, wasn't singing a part of everyday life as much as talking, physical exercise, and religion? Our distant ancestors, wherever they were in the world, sang while pounding grain, paddling canoes, or walking long journeys. Can we begin to make our lives, once more, all of a piece? Finding the right songs and singing them over and over is a way to start. And as one person taps out a beat while another leads into the melody, or when three people discover a harmony they never knew existed, or a crowd joins in on a chorus as though to raise the ceiling a few feet higher, then they also know there is hope for the world.


(again from Robert Wadsworth Lowry)

When tyrants tremble as they hear the bells of freedom ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near, how can I keep from singing?
To prison cell and dungeon vile our thoughts to them are winging;
When friends by shame are undefiled, how can I keep from singing?

Last modified 5 January 2012