Best of UU

“By faith made strong. . .”

Filed under: Creative — Jess at 1:04 pm on Thursday, August 7, 2008

Music can be one of the most healing balms in the face of tragedy and despair. Today, I bring you two hymn texts from Singing the Living Tradition, the Unitarian Universalist hymnal, both of which were sung at this past Sunday’s rededication service at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.

May Nothing Evil Pass This Door

words by Louis Untermeyer (1885-1977)

May nothing evil cross this door,
and may ill fortune never pry
about these windows; may the roar
and rain go by.

By faith made strong, the rafters will
withstand the battering of the storm.
This hearth, though all the world grow chill,
will keep you warm.

Peace shall walk softly through these rooms,
touching our lips with holy wine,
till every casual corner blooms
into a shrine.

With laughter drown the raucous shout,
and, though these sheltering walls are thin,
may they be strong to keep hate out
and hold love in.

Spirit of Life

words by Carolyn McDade

Spirit of Life, come unto me.
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea;
Move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.
Roots hold me close; wings set me free;
Spirit of Life, come to me,
Come to me.

Source: Singing the Living Tradition, hymn #1, “May Nothing Evil Cross This Door,” words by Louis Untermeyer (1885-1977); and hymn #123, “Spirit of Life,” words by Carolyn McDade.

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“All my stirring becomes quiet. . .”

Filed under: Creative, Prayers — Jess at 11:54 am on Thursday, June 12, 2008

A short poem today, by Wendell Berry, that I read as a prayer in and of itself. The words are a studied contrast to the Lord’s Prayer, explored Tuesday, but I find the two to be of the same ilk.

I Go Among Trees and Sit Still

by Wendell Berry

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
Around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
Where I left them, asleep like cattleā€¦

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
And the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

Source: “I Go Among Trees and Sit Still” by Wendell Berry from Sabbaths, 1987, North Point Press.

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“The truth has left its footprints. . .”

Filed under: Creative — Jess at 10:44 am on Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The balance of science and religion, of the work of humanity versus the ineffable, can be hard to describe. This lovely song by Catherine Faber, set to images by Vu Trong Thu on YouTube, does a beautiful job of speaking to the complexity of the world we live in and seek to understand.

The word God in this piece may cause some readers pause — how do you hear this word in this context? Personally, I find it well in keeping with Rev. Michael Dowd’s treatment — god as the whole of creation, constantly growing and changing.

The Word of God

by Catherine Faber

From desert cliff and mountaintop we trace the wide design,
Strike-slip fault and overthrust and syn and anticline…
We gaze upon creation where erosion makes it known,
And count the countless aeons in the banding of the stone.
Odd, long-vanished creatures and their tracks & shells are found;
Where truth has left its sketches on the slate below the ground.
The patient stone can speak, if we but listen when it talks.
Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the rocks.

There are those who name the stars, who watch the sky by night,
Seeking out the darkest place, to better see the light.
Long ago, when torture broke the remnant of his will,
Galileo recanted, but the Earth is moving still
High above the mountaintops, where only distance bars,
The truth has left its footprints in the dust between the stars.
We may watch and study or may shudder and deny,
Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the sky.

By stem and root and branch we trace, by feather, fang and fur,
How the living things that are descend from things that were.
The moss, the kelp, the zebrafish, the very mice and flies,
These tiny, humble, wordless things — how shall they tell us lies?
We are kin to beasts; no other answer can we bring.
The truth has left its fingerprints on every living thing.
Remember, should you have to choose between them in the strife,
Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote life.

And we who listen to the stars, or walk the dusty grade
Or break the very atoms down to see how they are made,
Or study cells, or living things, seek truth with open hand.
The profoundest act of worship is to try to understand.
Deep in flower and in flesh, in star and soil and seed,
The truth has left its living word for anyone to read.
So turn and look where best you think the story is unfurled.
Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the world.

Source: “The Word of God” by Catherine Faber, video from YouTube by Vu Trong Thu, and poem/lyrics from Echo’s Children. Hat tip, Ms. Kitty.

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“Eyes to behold, throats to sing, mates to love. . .”

Filed under: Creative — Jess at 4:14 pm on Tuesday, April 29, 2008

To finish up National Poetry Month, this poem offers a glimpse of eternity.

Its writer, the Rev. Robert T. Weston, was a Unitarian minister for many years, serving the First Unitarian Church of Louisville, Kentucky, and helping to found Second Unitarian Church in Omaha, Nebraska. His son now serves as the consulting minister for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Hillsborough, North Carolina.

The poem can be found as responsive reading #530 in the Unitarian Universalist hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition.

Out of the Stars

by Robert Weston

Out of the stars in their flight, out of the dust of eternity,
here have we come,
Stardust and sunlight,
mingling through time and through space.

Out of the stars have we come,
up from time.
Out of the stars have we come.

Time out of time before time
in the vastness of space,
earth spun to orbit the sun,
Earth with the thunder of mountains newborn,
the boiling of seas.

Earth warmed by sun, lit by sunlight;
This is our home;
Out of the stars have we come.

Mystery hidden in mystery,
back through all time;
Mystery rising from rocks
in the storm and the sea.

Out of the stars, rising from rocks
and the sea,
kindled by sunlight on earth,
arose life.

Ponder this thing in your heart,
life up from sea:
Eyes to behold, throats to sing,
mates to love.

Life from the sea, warmed by sun,
washed by rain,
life from within, giving birth,
rose to love.

This is the wonder of time;
this is the marvel of space;
out of the stars swung the earth;
life upon earth rose to love.

This is the marvel of life,
rising to see and to know;
Out of your heart, cry wonder:
sing that we live.

Source: “Out of the Stars” by Robert T. Weston, reading #530 in the Unitarian Universalist hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, and also published online in many places.

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“a blue true dream of sky . . .”

Filed under: Creative, Prayers — Jess at 8:16 am on Thursday, April 24, 2008

Edward Estlin Cummings (October 14, 1894-September 3, 1962), better known as e.e. cummings, was raised Unitarian, and wrote what has become my favorite prayer, among many other wonderful poems.

i thank You God for most this amazing. . .

by e.e. cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Source: “i thank You God for most this amazing. . .” by e.e. cummings, as printed by

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“small dark eyes / Of a surprising clearness . . .”

Filed under: Creative — Jess at 8:48 am on Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Poet Anne Porter published her first volume of poetry at age 83. She has a fascinating story, and was featured in the Wall Street Journal back in 2006.

This poem, “Susanna,” is from her book Living Things, a finalist for the 1999 National Book Award, and helps to remind us how simple certain things can truly be. I first heard it on the Writer’s Almanac a few weeks back.


by Anne Porter

Nobody in the hospital
Could tell the age
Of the old woman who
Was called Susanna

I knew she spoke some English
And that she was an immigrant
Out of a little country
Trampled by armies

Because she had no visitors
I would stop by to see her
But she was always sleeping

All I could do
Was to get out her comb
And carefully untangle
The tangles in her hair

One day I was beside her
When she woke up
Opening small dark eyes
Of a surprising clearness

She looked at me and said
You want to know the truth?
I answered Yes

She said it’s something that
My mother told me

There’s not a single inch
Of our whole body
That the Lord does not love

She then went back to sleep.

Source: “Susanna” by Anne Porter, from Living Things, as printed by the Writer’s Almanac on April 6, 2008.

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“Time is the only road. . .”

Filed under: Creative — Jess at 2:21 pm on Thursday, April 17, 2008

This song could be known as the “Seeker’s Anthem,” I think. Singer-songwriter Peter Mulvey, a friend of mine from college, captures eloquently the yearning within so many people for deeper meaning, larger connections, but also the smaller balances of personal relationships. The most recent version of the song appears on his newest CD release, “Notes from Elsewhere.” There are also many mp3s available for free download on his website.

A Better Way to Go

by Peter Mulvey

I just came from the guru’s website
I’m still washing off the smell
Man, why don’t he just go on TV
And tell us all, “Give up or go to hell”

I was only looking if they had something to say
Lately it has been hard to get through my day
I was looking for something I just don’t know
I’ve been looking for a better way to go

(Read on … )

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“gentleness that wears away rock. . .”

Filed under: Creative, Prayers — Jess at 10:40 am on Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Rev. Sean posted this lovely poem back in February, and I saved it for this month’s “poetry-palooza.” Poet Ellen Bass, who writes and teaches in California, captures the necessity of seeing the sacred throughout our daily lives, an important concept for Unitarian Universalists.

Pray for Peace

by Ellen Bass

Pray to whoever you kneel down to:
Jesus nailed to his wooden or marble or plastic cross,
his suffering face bent to kiss you,
Buddha still under the Bo tree in scorching heat,
Adonai, Allah, raise your arms to Mary
that she may lay her palm on our brows,
to Shekinhah, Queen of Heaven and Earth,
to Inanna in her stripped descent.

(Read on … )

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“to see the light pouring down. . .”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jess at 12:01 pm on Thursday, April 10, 2008

Another poem, in honor of National Poetry month, that you might hear in a Unitarian Universalist worship service or other setting, this time by Billy Collins. Mr. Collins was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001-2003 and is known for expressing big ideas with simple words.

I find this piece to be a wonderful metaphor for a spiritual journey, in addition to calling to mind many pleasant walks in the woods.


by Billy Collins

You know the brick path in back of the house,
the one you see from the kitchen window,
the one that bends around the far end of the garden
where all the yellow primroses are?
And you know how if you leave the path
and walk up into the woods you come
to a heap of rocks, probably pushed
down during the horrors of the Ice Age,
and a grove of tall hemlocks, dark green now
against the light-brown fallen leaves?
And farther on, you know
the small footbridge with the broken railing
and if you go beyond that you arrive
at the bottom of that sheep’s head hill?
Well, if you start climbing, and you
might have to grab hold of a sapling
when the going gets steep,
you will eventually come to a long stone
ridge with a border of pine trees
which is as high as you can go
and a good enough place to stop.

(Read on … )

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“every day do something that won’t compute. . .”

Filed under: Creative — Jess at 1:16 pm on Tuesday, April 8, 2008

April is National Poetry Month, and so I will devote the rest of this month’s postings to poetry that is either written by Unitarian Universalists or that expresses ideas one might find in our worship services and spiritual discussions.

This is probably my favorite poem ever, written by Wendell Berry. I first heard it in a Unitarian Universalist worship service all about poetry.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

(Read on … )

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