Today’s Word from Trinity Keyboardist, Sheila Weidendorf

1 Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!
E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me,
still all my song shall be,
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

2 Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down,
darkness be over me, my rest a stone;
yet in my dreams I’d be
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

3 There let the way appear, steps unto heaven;
all that thou sendest me, in mercy given;
angels to beckon me
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

4 Then, with my waking thoughts bright with thy praise,
out of my stony griefs Bethel I’ll raise;
so by my woes to be
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

5 Or if, on joyful wing cleaving the sky,
sun, moon, and stars forgot, upward I fly,
still all my song shall be,
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

This old favorite hymn tune, Bethany, was composed by American Unitarian and hymnodist Lowell Mason—who composed upwards of 1600 hymns, including Joy to the World! He was a renowned music educator who also just happened to write “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” The text set to this tune was written by Sarah Adams, a 19th century British Unitarian who not only contributed I believe 13 hymns to the Unitarian archives, but also wrote the dramatic poem, Vivia Perpetua, which concerns itself with the matter of “heathenism” vs Christianity, and ending in a moralistic/religious martyrdom.

Adams’text for Nearer My God to Thee is inspired by the telling of Jacob’s dream in the book of Genesis, (28:11-22):

“So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it…”

It seems to me, though, that this text also addresses the matter of spiritual equanimity. The text indicates that all paths essentially lead to God—whether the cross, or darkness, or “stony griefs” or, instead, mercy and the company of angels along that stairway to heaven. And isn’t life exactly this?

Some days bring infinite joy, others tragedy. Regardless of one’s personal theology, the vicissitudes of life cannot be denied. More, so much is beyond our grasp or control or understanding. Yet at the heart of all darkness lies the possibility of light. It is good to remember this, lest we settle into a pattern of complaint, of dissatisfaction, of noticing only the stony grief while failing to notice the lighted path forward out of turmoil. But before we can take that mercy-filled step forward toward the dawn, it just might be necessary to accept the fact of the darkness—NOT surrender to it, or give it more attention than is due, but to accept that the way forward, the way onward can only begin where we, indeed, are at the moment.

I grew up in rural Minnesota. Not far from my hometown runs the Kettle River, so called because of the deep caverns or “kettles” carved into the riverside boulders by the motion of the waters over time. We, too, have kettles and caverns… spaces in the heart carved out by pain, or by circumstances beyond our control. Denying the fact of it does not bring healing, or peace. But beginning with the acceptance of ourselves and our hurts and our failings, just as we are, can pave the way for allowing those kettles to be filled with joy, peace, infinite love and all of God’s tender mercies.

This is what I meant by “equanimity.” Is there not a season for everything under the sun? How freeing, then, to acknowledge pain and suffering when it is our companion, and so, too, blessing and joy—expecting neither to last forever, and remaining grateful for every opportunity to grow and to meet the Holy where it lay—which just might be everywhere, no ladders needed…

Sheila Weidendorf

Click HERE to listen to a version performed by Trio Indigo:

Linda Vogt, Violin

Mary Riles, Cello

Sheila Weidendorf, Piano

*Tune: Bethany
Composed: Lowell Mason, 1856
Text: Sarah F. Adams, 1841