I can say with absolute certainty that I am surrounded by people committed to the ideals of kindness and generosity.  Those who choose to exhibit these characteristics in a multitude of ways.  People who share their gifts, their time, their voices, their humour, their stuff, their feelings and their trust.  I am eternally grateful for this.


As we continue through the season of Lent, I am still drawn to the idea of reflection.  Taking some time to consider what is important.  What are we really willing to devote ourselves to because we have decided it is worth the effort, the time and the commitment?

These very old words are attributed to the 12thcentury mystic, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.  He was born into a family of nobility, but joined the Cistercian order and became a monk and scholar of significant influence in his own time, and far beyond.  It is said that Martin Luther admired him greatly as the “best monk that ever lived,” some four hundred years later.  He is thought to have founded 163 monasteries and was renowned for his religious devotion. The original poem, Jesus dulcis memoria, was a mere 42 verses – although, the most common English translation doesn’t require quite that much devotion of us anymore!

Jesus, the very thought of thee
with sweetness fills the breast;
but sweeter far thy face to see,
and in thy presence rest.

Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame,
Nor can the mind recall
a sweeter sound than thy dear name,
O Savior of us all.

O hope of every contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
to those who falter thou art kind!
How good to those who seek!

But what to those who find? Ah, this
nor tongue nor pen can show;
the love of Jesus, what it is,
none but his loved ones know.

Jesus, our only joy be thou,
as thou our prize wilt be;
Jesus, be thou our glory now,
and through eternity.

These words are quite lovely.  They describe feelings of complete love, joy and commitment – of being so convinced of the goodness of the subject of the devotion, that there is a sense that real peace has been achieved.  That just the thought or name of the beloved is enough to bring us what we require, the comfort we need and the joy of glory.

Sounds perfect.  Sounds easy.  And yet, finding something that has this much inspirational power can be a lifelong battle. One that is often difficult to reconcile with reality.  For some, the attempt at devotion, particularly within a religious context, can be quite debilitating.  The notion that peace can be found if we are pious enough – it just doesn’t always work that way.  For some, the idea of religion itself is so fraught with negative and damaging experiences, that it simply isn’t a place where any peace can be found.  For some, the circumstances of life are such that this approach feels like a slap in the face, a diminishing of the realities that threaten to swamp a life.

As has so often been the case, I am once again compelled to consider that these words are directive in nature.  Yes, they were written by a Christian monk to describe the characteristics of Jesus – something that will undoubtedly be meaningful to many.  But they are also a pretty good description of a person who contributes much to those around them.  Can we become someone that provides a place of peace and rest?  Someone whose name evokes sweet memories?  Someone who uplifts those that falter or soothes a contrite soul? Someone who is devoted to bringing joy and love?

It is a tall order.  To be a person that is able to fully commit to being this kind of spirit is hard.  We live in an era of self-focus. How we define almost everything is dependent upon our abilities to achieve success as individuals.  Successes of wealth, career, education, notoriety or fame, popularity and physical attractiveness.  We rarely vote for kindness or reward those who carry the weak or the needy. We are simply disinterested in those who do not exhibit the outward evidence of achievement.

But, these words are about a different kind of achievement.  They are about something deeply personal and deeply needed.  They speak to our common desire to feel surrounded by love and safety, by joy and reassurance.  If I look around my life, I can see special people who exhibit these life giving characteristics.  People who choose to cook for a neighbour who is not well.  People who sing for the dying.  People who give rides to the elderly.  People who help a child with their homework.  People who encourage a talent.  People who check if someone is okay.  People who say thank you.  People who remember and acknowledge a meaningful day.  People who volunteer.  People who keep our world clean.  People who are willing to speak out for good.  People who share their own joy.  People who live their lives fully despite many obstacles.  People who listen.  People who try to do what is right.  People who are simply available.  People who remember.  People who are kind.

There are many ways to become a giver of someone’s comfort, safety and joy.  Ultimately the task is begun with a choice.  I suspect this choice is relatively easy but the actual task can be difficult. It takes courage to seek out the needs of others. It takes honesty and openness to understand what’s actually needed. Providing for those needs takes strength.  It is a matter of listening carefully to the voices around us.  To the words, the actions, the hidden concerns, the underlying messages.  When we choose to see these things, and choose to act, we become part of that which is a sweetness that fills a space that was formerly empty.  Providing with our selves, a place of rest, and just maybe, the prize of joy.

Absent Sleep

I have heard from more than a few friends that sleep doesn’t always come easily these days.  Sometimes not at all; sometimes in fits and spurts; sometimes disturbed by dreams and even nightmares.  It seems that just when I think I’ve conquered the night, I am caught in another bought of insomnia – mind racing, eyes wide open.

So I turn again to a lullaby.  Another of these gentle songs that are meant to lull us to sleep.

This is an old one from Germany. It is attributed to a teacher and composer, Karl Friedrich Schulz around 1824, but there is some indication that it was based on a far older tune, possibly dating back to the 14th century, and one that has been used by a number of other composers in various works.

O wie wohl ist mir am Abend, mir am Abend,
Wenn zur Ruh die Glocken läuten, Glocken läuten:
Bim, bam, bim, bam, bim, bam.

Oh, how lovely is the evening, is the evening,
When the bells are sweetly ringing, sweetly ringing!
Ding, dong, ding, dong, ding dong.

I’m not sure how I feel about bells ringing as I try to go to sleep.  But there is something lovely about the idea of hearing bells softly pealing in the distance as the sun sets and all becomes peaceful.  While on a glorious vacation.  In some beautiful spot, perhaps an ancient hilltop village in the middle of Tuscany.  Well…

Not many of us currently find ourselves in some kind of idyllic setting that can evoke this sort of image.  We are not on vacation.  We are not on an adventure in places that are new or exciting, finding ourselves thrilled with sites we’ve never seen and experiences we’ve never had.  We don’t end our days reflecting on the beauty we’ve seen,  tired in that wonderful way that allows us to sink into sleep filled with visions of what awaits us in the morning.  Rather, we are limited in how we spend time with others – who we can see, whether we can hug our grandchildren or share a meal safely.  We are hyper conscious of how we interact with strangers, and how we need to change our world, our cities, our every surrounding and behaviour.  We are thinking and evaluating and aware and bothered and cautious and angry and lonely and trying and trying and trying.  We are tired.

I am not suggesting that there is nothing lovely in our evenings or our days. There is much. But some of the bells that ring us to sleep carry more than the peaceful imagery found in this lullaby.  Some are the voices of those who must be heard.  Some are the cries of those who have never been heard.  Some are our fears and questions about the future.  Some are our loneliness and our pain.

I could easily make a long list of things that I am thankful for.  Pages and pages could be filled with the blessings I have in my life.  The people, the experiences, the things.  And yet, sleep can still be elusive.  We are unsettled.  For many reasons.  Good reasons, sad reasons, scary reasons.  Reasons that sound like bells as we try to find the sleep we need.  Bells that remind us in gentle and clanging ways that life is more than ease and comfort.  That it is uncertain and it requires us to hear when it is unbalanced; to listen when things are not right.  Nothing is guaranteed, we don’t deserve anything, all is fleeting.

And yet, there is a beauty to be found in the sound of these bells.  They ring out with a song of possibility.  A song that offers us the option to be better, to create a better world, to rebuild our lives in better ways.  How often do we get that opportunity? How often do we take it?  This uncertain time is offering us something we simply cannot ignore.  It is really quite incredible.

I admit that I don’t enjoy lying awake with bells pealing through my mind.  I long for a peaceful sleep with which to refresh enough to face challenges with strength and purpose.  But when that isn’t possible, perhaps there is space to simply listen to the bells and seek their beauty and guidance and understand that what they are there for may be necessary and important.  Life isn’t about perfection, it is about growth.  Growth happens in many ways.  As the bells gently ring you to sleep each night, embrace their song.  Despite our heavy weariness, it is a song we need to learn, understand and sing.

Difficult Thankfulness

There is something to be said about giving thanks for things that are difficult. We are living in a time that is teaching us much, if we choose to listen. Teaching us about others’ realities, pain, insecurities and needs.  It is time for us to be thankful for our discomfort in all of this.  And time for us to carry the weight of what we have done.


Thanksgiving is upon us and this is the weekend to be thankful.  It is when we take a moment to celebrate our blessings and remember what we treasure, what we have, our abundance.  While I quite enjoy the tradition, I will admit that there is a part of me that feels a little discomfort with our ideas surrounding thankfulness.  When we sit at our gatherings and go around the table and say what we are thankful for, we hear about friends, family, health.  Good and worthy things to be thankful for.  We hear about the bounty of the harvest and the food we eat, the homes we live in, the clothes on our backs – jobs, education, freedom.  The list is understandable.  It is good.  The words of this familiar hymn reflect all of this.  We are safe and we are provided for.

Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come,
Raise the song of harvest home.

And yet, in all of this goodness, I am left wondering.  As someone overly blessed with all of these things, it isn’t that my gratitude is absent.  I am deeply thankful.  But it may be that the source of my discomfort can be found in my blessings.  It is a simple fact that not everyone is as blessed with these kinds of riches as I am.   My thankfulness reminds me of the incredible imbalances found in the world – in my neighbourhood and across the seas.   The imbalances of wealth, the imbalances of health, the imbalances of how people are treated, the imbalances of education, the imbalances of opportunity, the imbalances of warmth and love.  So how do I celebrate all that is good in my life and acknowledge my great luck at the same time?  For what I have, those things we are thankful for, are indeed mostly about luck.  And it is in this state of privilege that I must recognize how much I am required to use the harvest of my blessings for some greater good; for some rebalancing in an unfair world.

But all that is good isn’t a permanent state – for anyone.  The harsh reality of any of our lives is that we all suffer, and I am also left wondering about the things that cause pain.  The things that challenge me.  The things I am really not thankful for.  Am I missing something important in the presence of the bad, the unpleasant, the hurtful in my life?  I think so.  For it is in my own pain that I learn to carry someone else’s pain.  It is in my own sadness that I understand another’s sadness.  It is in my own loneliness that I am able to see the lonely.  When I despair, I go to a place where many, many live.  I dearly need to see, feel and experience these places too, even as I struggle to bear up under their weight.

It is hard to be thankful for these difficult moments in our lives, but they offer us an opportunity to learn about resilience and they teach us to care. It can be a powerful act of generosity to walk through your own pain and then choose to use its lessons to carry another.

I rarely feel thankful for things that cause me pain, but I wonder if that is where my discomfort with Thanksgiving comes from. The strange mixture of gratitude for the good and disdain for the bad leaves me out of sorts. And while I don’t relish dwelling on painful experiences, especially those that are unresolved or even unresolvable, sometimes we must. Often we have no choice.

Perhaps as we express our thanks, we can consider our blessings and our pain.  Raising the song of the harvest home – both the perfect and the bruised fruit alike.  For all that we gather in our lives becomes our nourishment, and therefore part of the banquet we serve those around us.  In the moments when our voices are able to sing, it is the whole picture that colours our tune.  And when we cannot sing, hearing those who can is much richer knowing they have both survived the bad and rejoiced in the good.  Whether we are singing or just listening, let us do it in truth; in sadness and in joy.

Come, ye thankful people, Come!


A Field of Flowers

I would like to expand on this post from five years ago.  At the time, there was a refugee crisis in Syria and the world watched horrific accounts of the lives of people caught in circumstances not of their own making.  There were those who welcomed refugees openly, and those who did not.  There were those who understood that when people ask for help and shelter, it should be given.  There were those who made decisions based on protecting their own security, comfort and wealth.  We continue to be these same people.

The soil I happen to have landed on, is full of nutrients and I grow easily.  The soil others are faced with is dry, rocky and barren and requires so much effort to be fruitful, if growth is even possible.  Perhaps it is time to fill my wheelbarrow and redistribute the good soil.  Perhaps it is time to be accepting when someone else asks for, or takes what they need.  Perhaps there is space for us all and infinite beauty to be found in the variety we create as a whole.


It’s been several months since I’ve arranged a hymn, and a month since I last posted anything. I know my year of song is over, but it seems there are still many hymns on my list. And so, bear with me if I occasionally send another one out into the world. These hymns just keep calling to me – and I continue to listen.

Over the past little while, the world has been inundated with horrific stories about the plight of refugees. Our news outlets and social media are full of pictures, tragedies and questions. These stories are not new, and, unfortunately, are not rare. They have, however, given many of us cause to think about this issue in a more critical way, and with greater urgency than we have in the past. How do we fit into these stories?

This hymn was written by Christopher Dock around 1770. He was a Mennonite teacher who emigrated to Pennsylvania around 1710, where he opened two schools. It is said he was completely devoted to the children he taught – staying after school every day to pray for each one individually. A man who cared deeply in both a practical and spiritual way. The tune is sometimes known as The Philharmonia (1875), but in my hymnbook it is also given the tune name of Beautiful Flower. Appropriate because it speaks about gathering little children together to be taught and to be cared for. Beautiful flowers indeed.

Like many, I have been struggling with the images of refugees seen around the world. Those of children are especially haunting. Beautiful flowers left hungry, homeless, afraid, alone and sometimes dead.  These children have not always been gathered into the arms of those of us who have much to spare. Instead, we seem to have a bizarre need to justify our ability to offer care. Are their needs real? Will they harm us? How will they impact our countries? My memory of many, many Sunday School lessons doesn’t recall stories of Christ asking these kinds of questions.

I am also conscious as we approach Thanksgiving, that we have much to be thankful for. I enjoy time with about thirty children each week as a piano teacher. Every child I see is clothed, fed and has a place to sleep at night. This is a joy not to be taken for granted. The things we have allow our flowers to grow and show their beauty. It is an accident of birth that my thirty children can exhibit their beauty so easily, while millions of others struggle to break through the soil on which they find themselves.

There are few easy answers to the questions we’re faced with. But when we have much, choosing to place obstacles in the way of sharing is sad.  It is heartbreaking. Why not gather the little children near – the ones you know and the ones you don’t?  A field of flowers of all varieties is a beautiful thing. To view it will never diminish your experience. To view it will carry you through whatever hardship comes.  To view it will bring, and spread, joy.


At the end of a difficult week, many of us feel alone.  Alone in the challenges we are faced with.  Alone in our confusion, weariness, frustration, pain.  Alone with our thoughts about what is right and what is wrong; what we need to change internally and what needs to change around us.  But we are not alone. And as we seek to find our way, we will find others on the same path whom we can walk with.  We will find some who need our strength, and others who inspire.  We are not alone. We are many.  And we are the love that will not let go.


To be alone is a complicated thing. There are times when we are quite content to be alone – comfortable with ourselves and our thoughts and activities, at peace with whatever we are doing or experiencing.  But there are other times, when our deepest need is to be with someone who loves us.  To be in the warmth and safety of another’s presence.  To understand that, ultimately, we do not live in a lonely place.

Both sides of this coin are elusive.  It is hard to become content in our aloneness. It is hard to find that special presence, whether it lies in a person or in faith, that will carry us when we need carrying.  I suspect most of us spend our lives searching for and working at accomplishing both sides.  Some of us achieve the goal, others remain uncared for and lonely.

This hymn was written on June 6, 1882. Very specific. The reason is that its author, George Matheson, wrote of the experience as being an otherworldly happening that he felt was divinely inspired, and took him a mere five minutes to achieve.  He said, it was as if it was dictated by some inner voice that was not his own.  What is important to note is that he had suffered something, unknown to us, that caused what he referred to as “the most severe mental suffering.  The hymn was the fruit of that suffering.”

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee.
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Light that follows all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee.
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee.
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee.
I lay in dust, life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red,
Life that shall endless be.

There is such sadness in these words.  And such loneliness.  They sound like the words of someone who has suffered and who is so very tired.  And yet, each verse speaks to the presence of something else. Love, Light, Joy and Faith.  These foundations on which to stand in times of pain. These are not the empty sentiments of everything will be alright, these are the pillars that are being grasped because everything isn’t.  These are the strengths looked at when strength is gone.  These are the powerful ideals upon which a life is built.  These are the things left when we are alone.

We all suffer.  Some seem to suffer more than others, and I don’t really understand why. But there are times when I hear the words of someone who has suffered and feel a sense of tremendous strength.  Tremendous dignity.  Tremendous wisdom.  Some people come to these understandings walking a long and difficult road and somehow manage to achieve the gifts of love, light, joy and faith despite their circumstances, their suffering.  I admire this.  I aspire to own and exhibit these gifts.  These special people are valuable beyond measure.  Valuable in ways our world often doesn’t recognize.

Look around you.  Find those that suffer and admire their strength.  Perhaps the suffering is small, perhaps it is large, but open your eyes to the remarkable spirit that can rise above the mess thrown at it by life. Admire those who find their pillars, aware of their support even when all else is crumbling.

Look for those that suffer and are alone.  Perhaps you are the pillar that they need to grasp – give your love, your light, your joy, your faith.  Embrace the lonely if you have a strength to share.  Generosity of spirit is also an admirable gift.

Look at your own suffering and seek the smallest place to glimpse the love, the light, the joy and the faith that exists beyond yourself.  We are part of a richness of human spirits that can carry and reassure.  We are allowed to ask for help.  We’ve lost sight of this, but we are allowed to ask for help.

We are not alone.  We are many.  We are the love that will not let go.

Take My Hand

Like many, I am a little bit lost.  So much has come to the front of our minds this week.  Things that should have been there long ago.  As a white person, I admit my failure.

It is difficult to know what to do.  Those who wish to be allies in the fight against racism, in all its forms, are looking for direction.  Do we march?  Do we donate?  Do we pray?  Do we read?  Do we preach?  Do we protect?  Do we shelter? Maybe any of these, maybe all.  But I suspect what we really need to do is listen.  We really need to hear.  And we really need to accept our complicity.

I have made mistakes.  I have said things in the wrong way.  I have misunderstood.  I am anxious about what is the right thing to do, what is the wrong thing to do.  But I am willing to offer my hand anyway.  As an ally, as a friend, as a stranger.  I don’t know what this will mean.  But I am willing to find out.  I am willing to be told I haven’t quite got it yet, and am willing to try again.  I offer my hand.

This hymn was written by Thomas A. Dorsey in 1932.  Dorsey is one of the great African American hymn writers and choral conductors, often referred to as the father of gospel music, and wrote more than four hundred songs. This one was written upon learning of the death of his wife in childbirth, and the subsequent death of their infant son.  It is a powerful statement about the deep need a human being has to find comfort in the hands of something beyond their suffering, beyond their pain.

Precious Lord, take my hand,
Lead me on, let me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn;
Through the storm, through the night,
Lead me on to the light:

Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.

When my way grows drear,
Precious Lord, linger near,
When my life is almost gone,
Hear my cry, hear my call,
Hold my hand lest I fall:

Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.

When the darkness appears
And the night draws near,
And the day is past and gone,
At the river, I stand,
Guide my feet, hold my hand:

Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.

What can I do but offer a hand to hold in this time of intense questioning and suffering?  A hand that allows the pain and anguish to rage, withstanding the force of something deeper than I can possibly know.  A hand that is willing to seek an understanding of the cause of the pain, willing to accept responsibility for my role in it, and be open to learning more about what allows it to carry on; what will see its end.

It is time to offer the hand that is needed.  Not the one that makes me feel better.  The one that is needed.

I see people who are tired.  They are worn.  They should not have to fall or fear the night or live in a never ending storm.  They have cried for long enough.

Gates of Beauty

We are living in a messy time.  A time filled with fear, with anger, with frustration, with pain.  Some of these things are beyond our control.  Some we could relieve and change, if only we made the decisions required to do so. There are examples right now of people in our world who are making those hard decisions – in big and small ways.  The decisions that will rise up above the mess and exude beauty.  The kind of beauty that we need.  The kind of beauty that will inspire others.  The kind of beauty that shines a bright light on those who have done wrong and calls them into account. The kind of beauty that gives hope to those who are battered and broken and encourages the weary.  The kind of beauty that is strong and clear.  These are the people we need to focus upon. They are real leaders.


The idea of beauty keeps coming into my mind.  What beauty is and what value it should have in our lives.  There are times when it is a stumbling block, if understood in a superficial way.  But there are times when it opens up our souls to things beyond ourselves; things that lift us from the mire and into a place of vision and reward.

Open now thy gates of beauty, 
Zion; let me enter there,
where my soul in joyful duty
waits for One who answers prayer.
Oh, how blessed is this place,
filled with solace, light, and grace!

Gracious God, I come before thee,
come thou also unto me.
Where we find thee and adore thee,
there a heav’n on earth must be.
To my heart O enter thou,
let it be thy temple now.

Speak, O Lord, and I will hear thee;
let thy will be done indeed.
May I undisturbed draw near thee
while thou dost thy people feed.
Here of life the fountain flows,
here is balm for all our woes.

This hymn speaks of the latter kind of beauty and I must say, I love the image of the gates of beauty.  A special passageway into something that is blessed.  The word blessed is one of those that gets tossed around frequently these days.  I’ve heard so many people say they are blessed – because they are successful, healthy, wealthy, lucky…. whatever.  But to me, being blessed is about a sense of relief.  A shift, from being burdened by the many things that weigh us down, to seeking out the spaces where we can see beautiful views.  I’m not convinced it has anything to do with what we have or what we receive, but rather with those magical things that run like currents through our world and remind us of the Divine, of what is good, of what we can never understand. To me, these things make up the land of beauty – that place found when we open the gates.

As I think about the weights of this world – environmental concerns, injustice, sadness, pain, sickness, hatred, stress and many others – I find myself feeling heavy. I’m sure this is common.  I hear people speak of this weariness, of this sense of drowning in the filth.  We have access to so much information that is soul destroying.  And we take it in.  Someone said to me this week that there was no such thing as good news.  It was a kick in the gut – for how does one live with that in their mind?  How do we even begin to create good news when we no longer believe it exists?

But it does. And more and more I am thinking it exists in beauty.  True beauty – that which reflects our most beautiful souls.  The artist’s ability to recollect a lost family member’s presence in the beauty of their painting.  The composer’s notes that transcend our ability to speak and bring us closer to what we feel.  The garden’s ceaseless transition from dormancy into bloom and decay, echoing our own lives with all its stages of loveliness – each one different, each one precious.  The ocean as it moves with a constancy that brings calm reassurance and exciting motion all at the same time.  The grain dancing in the wind in fields that breathe of our nourishment.  The footsteps of those walking beside us that fill the air with a song, when we have nothing left but silence.  The stars, the planets, the comets – the darkness of night that reveals something larger than we can ever imagine.

There is beauty everywhere.  There is simply not enough evil in this world to wipe it out.  Whether we see it or not, it is constant.  When we are able to find it, something happens and we start to see beyond ourselves.  When we look through human history and see bits and pieces of beauty in amongst our horrors, we find hope.  When we take time to look at something beautiful, we start to cherish things differently, to honour them, to protect them.  When we offer a moment of beauty to someone who is so weighed down that they can’t find it themselves, we give a small blessing, a small relief from their pain – sometimes unrecognized, but inserted into their memory to be received when they are able.

Beauty is a powerful thing.  Seeking it is rewarding but so challenging in a world that has defined it in ways that tarnish its depth of importance.  Sharing it is generous and infectious, even if we are afraid to reveal how beautiful we really are.  Surrounding ourselves with it is healing, even when our world remains filled with pain. Finding the beauty that reflects the very best of your soul allows you to enter those gates, and often empowers others to follow.  And in that beauty filled space, the fountain of life flows.

Love Is A Choice

Do we love or do we hate?  It is a simple question.  It is not as simple to answer. But it is worth considering.  Our ability to love in a truthful, humble, open and generous way will determine what we leave behind us on the path we walk through this life. It is our choice whether our footsteps are destructive or peaceful; whether they disregard others on the path or provide space and opportunity for growth and flourishing.

Love sees.  Love listens.  Love acknowledges its failures.  Love tries.  Love learns.  Love sacrifices.  Love gives.  Love is strong.  Love is fierce.  Love is patient.  Love is kind.

Love does not judge others’ expressions of pain.

Love is willing to do what is right, even when it is impossible.


Somewhere, way back in my childhood, this is the first hymn I ever learned to play on the piano.  Or, I should say, the first one I remember playing.  I think I was about 11 years old and I suppose playing it was easy enough to draw me into the world of hymns.  I have fond memories of playing it, and other hymns, with a friend of mine – we would merrily flip through the hymnbook and play whatever we could.  Sometimes, in fits of laughter, we would settle on two hymns on facing pages, and dive in for a duet of less than inspirational quality, regardless of competing time and key signatures.  Probably not what the hymn writers intended.

These are very old words.  They can be found in many Gregorian chants, the earliest record of their use in 990 at a monastery in Switzerland. The original Latin text is: Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi: Quia per Crucem tuam redemisti mundum.  This familiar hymn version was written as part of an oratorio by Théodore Dubois in 1867 (translated into English in 1899 by Theodore Baker).

Christ, we do all adore thee,
And we do praise thee forever.
For on the holy cross hast thou
the world from sin redeemed.

This is a simple hymn.  The music is simple; the words are simple.  Perhaps this is what drew me to it as a child.  We adore and praise Christ, why?  Because of his sacrifice and resulting redemption.  End of story.  For those that adhere to this belief, there isn’t much more to add. And, many have experienced moments where the simplicity of repeated statements of this kind of childlike faith have been very moving and very meaningful.  Sometimes that’s all we need.

And yet, as always, we need to look beyond the places we lived as children.  To look for that which confounds as well as comforts, to consider other points of view.  Can this simple sentiment mean more than what it appears – can it be meaningful beyond the confines of a specific belief system?

Christ’s example of sacrificial love is powerful. His story is about providing what was needed, in all sorts of ways, to all sorts of people.  Healing, food, comfort, reassurance, and ultimately, redemption.  And, some choose to adore and praise him as a result. Regardless of how his example has been used and misused throughout church history, these behaviours are valuable and honourable and worthy.

I don’t really know what sin is, but I suspect behaving in ways that are the opposite of love defines it well.  I also suspect that the lists of sins that have been screamed at us from many a pulpit, contain more about maintaining power structures than about expressing love, and have little to do with deep, moral truths.  The standard is so much higher than what we have been told. Simply following rules is both easy to do and easy to dismiss, and a little lazy in the lack of understanding of how humans learn, grow and evolve.  Truly living in a spirit of love requires a great deal more effort, and its absence requires enormous redemption.

For me, redemption is about the process of regaining what has been lost.  When we exhibit behaviours that are less than loving, we lose something.  We lose a part of the recipient’s spirit and a part of our own. We leave a trail of destruction in our wake.  We become unadorable.

All of this leaves me wondering about both the simplicity and complexity of choosing love.  It is difficult.  There are times when we must honour ourselves by walking away from damaging situations, or must rely on others to provide for a need we cannot possibly fill.  Being a person grounded in love does not mean we are weak and accepting of whatever the world or our neighbours throw our way. But how we choose to behave matters. What we say, what we do, how we react and respond.

Adoration and praise is probably best saved for the gods. But redemption is something we all need. If we are willing to consider the greatest examples in human history, we will see that whatever was lost is always regained through actions, words, honour and commitment.  When these things are firmly grounded in a paradigm of love, rebuilding is possible, even if it is challenging and takes a lifetime.

This simple hymn reminds me that that there are powerful forces available to guide my path.  There is hate.  There is love.  The guide I choose will determine not the perfection of my experience, but the impact my path has on this world.

The original Latin includes the words, and we bless thee.  This is my wish.  That our lives and the paths we walk provide that which blesses those we encounter and those who follow.

Et benedicimus tibi.


I looked at this hymn tune a few years ago, but today I happened upon a version with different words and it sort of spoke to me.  That doesn’t happen very often, so I felt it was worth a second arrangement and a few moments thinking about this new, to me, text.  These incredible words were written by Jessie Adams around 1907.  She was a Quaker teacher in England, but not much else is known about her.

I feel the winds of God today;
today my sail I lift,
though heavy oft with drenching spray
and torn with many a rift;
if hope but light the water’s crest,
and Christ my bark will use,
I’ll seek the seas at his behest,
and brave another cruise.

It is the wind of God that dries
my vain regretful tears,
until with braver thoughts shall rise
the purer, brighter years;
if cast on shores of selfish ease
or pleasure I should be,
O let me feel your freshening breeze,
and I’ll put back to sea.

If ever I forget your love
and how that love was shown,
lift high the blood-red flag above;
it bears your name alone.
Great pilot of my onward way,
you will not let me drift;
I feel the winds of God today,
today my sail I lift.

I’m not sure there is much I can add to these words.  What is the thing that sends its wind into your sail?  That persistent, cleansing, driving, rejuvenating, reminding force that keeps you going?  I know it is different for each of us.  I know some find it difficult to find, others choose to ignore its positive potential in favour of selfish or superficial breezes.  But I can’t help reading these words and thinking that the piloting energy we choose to engage enables us to live life fully and honourably.  This choice determines whether our sails are worth lifting.

This has been such a strange time.  We are so tired.  Consider how the absence of regular life has impacted you.  The restrictions.  The shortages.  The loneliness.  The fear.  The loss of jobs.  The threat of untimely death.  The boredom.  The disappointments.  The breakdown of our economies.  The failed businesses and organizations.  The need to protect oneself at all times.  The awareness required in all our activities.  The lack of easy communication and gathering.  It is draining and it is wearing us down.

We have lost a bit of freedom.  It seems to be exhausting many of us.  But it is for the greater good, so we carry on as best we can and hope for solutions that will return us to lives that are full and interesting and move in the directions we desire.  We assume we will regain what was lost, or at least regain the ability to rebuild.  We are weary, but able to be hopeful.

Not every experience is like this.  Some hopes are dashed repeatedly.  Across generations.  It is not lost on me that those who suffer at the hands of oppression are infinitely more exhausted than what we are feeling after a couple of months of isolation in this pandemic.  And it is not lost on me that what we choose to hear as this wind blows is critically important right now.  This is a storm borne from poor choices.  My poor choices.  My complacency as a white person, comfortable with my life and its privilege.  Neglectful of the weariness of those with very different life experiences.   I don’t know what the answers are, but I know that something must change.  To require people to live with injustice, fear and exhaustion for so long is simply reprehensible.

We choose the wind that steers our sails.  We choose the direction we go, the route and the speed.  We can find ways to be reminded of our vainest tears, and the times we forget that love is a flag that must be held high regardless of its weight or our weakness. We can choose to change the world.  We can choose to make whatever sacrifice is needed to ensure all are able to sail in safety.  We can brave another cruise and feel a refreshing breeze.  We can.

Powerful Beauty

Amidst everything that is swirling around us, there is still beauty.  As I sit at my desk this morning, I am listening to birds sing.  It seems there are more than usual, that they sing louder and with more enthusiasm.  I don’t know if that’s true, but it is a lovely sound.  The sun is shining and the sky is a perfect blue with a few puffy clouds.  There is a lushness to the green in my garden, and in the yards of my neighbours.  It feels as though nature’s beauty is reclaiming this little spot where I live.  This world of ours is a wonder.  It sustains us and reminds us that all who walk upon it are worthy of what it offers.  Enjoy its beauty and be reminded that each one of us deserves to live on this planet – safely, fully and with compassion for those with whom we share this beautiful place.


I’ve been thinking about this beautiful world we live in this week.  It’s autumn, such a perfect season for those of us that love the changing colours of the leaves and the crisp, refreshing weather.  But, perhaps you prefer winter with its sparkling white stillness and peaceful dark evenings.  Or summer, with its lush gardens and radiant sunshine.  Maybe your favourite time is spring when everything is bursting with life.  The possible variations of beauty offered to us are many.

This old hymn, written by Isaac Watts in 1715, speaks to the beauty of nature.  His understanding of the value of all these wonders is quite powerful.  Mountains rise, seas flow, skies are lofty, the sun rules the day, the moon and stars shine at night.  There is the goodness of food and creatures, and there is not a plant or flower that doesn’t express something glorious.  These words speak to the incredible value of what we have and what we share.

I sing the mighty power of God 
that made the mountains rise, 
that spread the flowing seas abroad 
and built the lofty skies. 
I sing the wisdom that ordained 
the sun to rule the day; 
the moon shines full at God’s command, 
and all the stars obey. 

I sing the goodness of the Lord 
that filled the earth with food; 
God formed the creatures with a word 
and then pronounced them good. 
Lord, how thy wonders are displayed, 
where’er I turn my eye, 
if I survey the ground I tread 
or gaze upon the sky!

There’s not a plant or flower below 
but makes thy glories known, 
and clouds arise and tempests blow 
by order thy your throne. 
While all that borrows life from thee 
is ever in thy care, 
there’s not a place that we can flee
but God is present there. 

When Watts wrote these words, I suspect his focus was on the power of God to create all these wonders.  And, for many, this continues to be a meaningful understanding of creation, of our world.  But even if you have a different understanding of our origins, there is something rather amazing about having a place on a planet so full; living amongst these things that are so easily seen as remarkable.  The beauty that surrounds us implies our own beauty, by association and by virtue of us being a part of the wonder of this beautiful world.

And yet, this week the UN panel on climate change released a report that paints a sad picture of how we have treated our planet.  Perhaps not entirely new information, but it is clear and quite dire.  We are said to be on a very short road to catastrophe. The impacts have already been seen and felt by many.  As I read through this hymn text, I was struck by how easily we praise the natural beauty around us – whether we consider it to be divinely derived or not – and how little we are willing to protect it when doing so means sacrificing our lifestyles, our aspirations, our wealth and our convenience.

If I really consider these words, I wonder if I am willing to go beyond my own enjoyment of the seasons, the glories of nature, the treasures of the animal world and really do what is required to protect all of these things I claim as beautiful. For that which is beautiful is something to be cared for, to be sheltered, to be encouraged to thrive.  These wonders are not merely for our consumption. They are essential for our health, welfare and future.  But if we believe in their intrinsic value, they are also worth conserving simply because they exist. The beauty of our earth is life giving and inspirational.  It is our saviour and our fortune.  We treat it as though it is our possession, to be used at our whim.  It is not. We owe it much more than we have been willing to repay.  We borrow our lives from it, and it is good.  We need to treat it as the treasure it is – a gloriously made gift to all who live now, and in days to come.  A gloriously made gift to be shared and cared for with a well-deserved tenacity and commitment.

This earth is our home.  Look around and take it all in.  It is worth so much more than we have given.  It is a mighty power – and it is beautiful.