About five years ago, I stood up a site about the joint 1937 Unitarian-Universalist hymnal and service book, The Hymns of the Spirit. It was built on WordPress and for some reason attracted a lot of bot traffic. The last thing I needed was for it to be taken over. So I moved it over to a simpler Jekyll site. It’s clean and quick to load; I’ll be fixing some gremlins but it’s ready to use. But there’s no place to leave a comment: comment through this site or email me about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My apologies for my long silent spell — longer, I think, than any since I began writing in 2003. But I couldn’t let All Souls Day go by unnoted.
The Universalist General Convention commended the Sunday closest to All Souls Day, November 2, “for a special celebration of our distinguishing doctrine, the Scriptural truth that all souls are God’s children, and that finally, by His grace attending them, they will all be saved from the power of sin, and will live and reign with Him forever in holiness and happiness.”
What we have here friends is an ethos, a vision and a plan worth celebrating. But what form shall this take?
For all of you who do not observe the Day of the Dead because you believe (in your case) it is cultural appropriation, know that that All Souls Day is for you. But there’s not a lot of cultural artifacts attached to it, so I can’t help you with those sugar skulls you’ve wanted an excuse to buy.
We do have a hymn, the most popular (not saying much) of writer and journalist Epes Sargent. Judging by his birthplace (Gloucester) and others having that name (Judith Sargent’s grandfather) I’m guessing his ties to Universalism are deep.
All souls, O Lord, are thine — assurance blest!
Thine, not our own to rob of help divine;
Not man’s, to doom by any human test,
But thine, O gracious Lord, and only thine.
Thine, by thy various discipline, to lead
To heights where heavenly truths immortal shine, —
Truths none eternally shall fail to heed;
For all, O Lord, are thine, forever thine.
Forgive the thought, that everlasting ill
To any can be part of thy design;
Finite, imperfect, erring, guilty, — still
All souls, great God, are thine — and mercy thine.
Time again to point out the Open Hymnal Project, which has a special PDF booklet of public domain Christmas hymns, (direct link) and a ZIP (archive) file GIF (image) files of individual files that should make it easier for you to put individual hymns in an order of service, downloadable from the main page.
See this page for an index of available hymns, Christmas or not, from which you can download related files, including single PDFs and GIFs.
I had some site problems this last week. My old main blog, BoyintheBands.com, was badly hacked and in the process of hardening the other sites against attack, I ruined the WordPress install for my homage site to the 1937 “red hymnal” HymnsoftheSpirit.org.
I had to trash the old system and completely reinstalled it. Easy, but I misplaced the theme (no great loss) in the process. So the site is there, if plain.
Did you know there’s a Hosea Ballou hymn still in current use? Of course, not among us. It’s kept alive by shape-note singers.
Come, let us raise our voices high,
And form a sacred song,
To Him who rules the earth and sky,
And does our days prolong.
Who through the night gave us to rest,
This morning cheered our eyes;
And with the thousands of the blest,
In health made us to rise.
Early to God we’ll send our prayer,
Make haste to pray and praise,
That He may make our good His care,
And guide us all our days.
And when the night of death comes on,
And we shall end our days;
May His rich grace the theme prolong
Of His eternal praise.
Here’s a video, from a singing convention in Ireland.
Derek McAuley, the Chief Officer of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, in Great Britain, cites an article in the current
— Derek McAuley (@Derekunit) December 11, 2015
— Scott Wells ن (@bitb) December 11, 2015
So, it would be interesting to see if there is any earlier citation. It would also be interesting if the poetry of the carol compares with one of the known Univeralist poets in The Myrtle…
That said, the temperance songs on the next page are fun, if not so evergreen. Here’s the first three (of nine) stanzas of one.
I took a course in hymnology during my Master of Divinity program at Brite Divinity School around 1996, when the Hymn Society will still housed on campus. The textbooks were written by esteemed hymnologist and minister Erik Routley (1917-1982) with the lectures supplemented by recorded lectures by Routley, helpful because hymns need to be heard and sung, and he was prone to sing fragments.
I loved that class, but I hadn’t heard the recordings again until a couple of days ago, when I discovered his Christian Hymnody series — originally issued on tape — playable online.
It covers the history of Christian hymnody though the end of the nineteenth century, and if you don’t have a background in hymnology it’ll probably help deeply. A bit of a caveat there, as I’ve not replayed it all: it runs about three hours.
Later notes: It runs in a conversational style,like having dinner with a very knowledgeable person who dominates the conversation. But don’t expect to learn anything about the Eastern church. Or is it six hours? A tape has two sides, you know.
Each evening, for vespers, I “sing” the Bonum Est Confiteri, Prasm 92:1-4 as it read in the rubrics, and included in the Coverdale version:
¶ Then shall be sang the following Psalm:
Bonum Est Confiteri.
It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord: and to sing praises unto thy name, O Most Highest;
To tell of thy loving-kindness early in the morning: and of thy truth in the night-season;
Upon an instrument of ten strings, and upon the lute: upon a loud instrument, and upon the harp.
For thou, Lord, hast made me glad through thy works: and I will rejoice in giving praise for the operations of thy hands.
Do I sing it? No. But there a different ways congregations can use this (and other psalms and canticles):
- Read in in unison.
- Read in by alternating verses or half verses; alternating between a worship leader and congregation, or between halves of the congregation.
- Read in unison, but book-ended with a sung antiphon. More often seen in newer hymnals.
- Chanted: plainsong or Anglican chant being two options.
- A metrical version sung to a psalm tune — “Old 100th” was the tune for an early metrical version of Psalm 100.
- A hymn based closely on the psalm.
The Sternhold and Hopkins metrical psalter is the likely choice for option 5, giving us, in common meter:
It is a thing both good and meet
to praise the highest Lord,
And to thy Name, O thou most High,
to sing with one accord:
To shew the kindness of the Lord,
before the day be light,
And to declare his truth abroad,
when it doth draw to night;
On a ten-string’ed instrument,
on lute and harp so sweet,
With all the mirth you can invent
of instruments most meet.
An assortment of hymns evoking Psalm 92 may be found here.
The point: a rubric and a text may be used in more than the literal way.
The oldest known melody…
A hymn to Nikkal, a Ugarit and Caananite goddess of fruit and wife of the moon god, Yarikh (and namesake of Jericho.)
All I know from memory about the Ugarit language is that it’s an ancient Semitic language that you could learn in the religion department at my alma mater, UGA (University of Georgia) and the co-incidence made me laugh.
But no youthful trifles here. This is a beautiful work, and fitting at high summer. If I only had grapes and figs and apricots. I am entranced by this music, nearly three and a half millenia on. (Thanks to hymnologist and Esperatist Leland “Haruo” Ross for posting this on Facebook.)