A recent edition of the UU World magazine asked readers, “What is your favorite UU hymn and why?” I loved reading the responses. In the absence of a written creed or one scriptural text, I have often turned to our UU hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, and its collection of hymns and readings, as a source of sacred words and reflections.
Like with any collection, there are some songs I know by heart (“Spirit of Life”) and some I have never heard before. There are the creatively (and humorously) edited lyrics from Christian hymns, including of course, the substitution in “Amazing Grace” – “that saved a soul like me,” instead of “wretch like me.” I also enjoy paging through the carefully selected poems, readings and quotations at the back of the hymnal, written by famous Unitarians and Universalists, and other great religious teachers.
The hymnal was published in 1993, and the preface from the Hymnbook Resources Commission shares their desire to include a wide variety of sources, traditions, philosophies and cultures. In this hymnal, particular attention was paid to spiritual imagery and language, in order to be more inclusive. And the songs and readings are arranged in accordance with our principles and sources, as well as songs for particular parts of the worship service.
I have so many favorite hymns, it’s impossible for me to pick just one. Different songs reflect different moods, or spiritual themes, or times in my own life or the life of a congregation. For me, “My Life Flows on in Endless Song” never ceases to bring me a sense of deep peace and connectedness to my own interior life. There’s nothing like singing, “We’ll Build a Land,” to bring people together in commitment to justice and peace. I love both the poetry and the theology inherent in “Touch the Earth, Reach the Sky!” which includes the lines, “our faith a quest to understand,” and “may we see where we can give, for this is what it means to live.”
There are many reasons to find our own theology in songs. The book of Psalms from the Hebrew Bible are songs, they were sung and memorized, and include some of the most beautiful poetry in the Jewish and Christian traditions. The spiritual practice of singing, both alone and in community, evokes religious feelings that cannot be achieved with mere reading or listening. In the words of another UU hymn, sometimes we must “sing to the power of the faith within.”
So, what is your favorite Unitarian Universalist hymn and why?
Christina Shu, Ministerial Intern