This is the first of several reflections i hope to write during this uncertain time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a Unitarian Universalist, I believe in hearing the wisdom and beauty of all the world’s religions. Today, trying to juggle the strange new demands of being a minister working from home with a toddler and baby wanting my attention at the same time, this song came across my Facebook newsfeed. A live video of Roman Catholic hymn writer David Haas, sharing one of his hymns for St. Patrick’s Day. Being a Catholic hymn, there are plenty of images here that are not my own theological preference; however, when I put that aside, there is something beautiful in this hymn that really spoke to my spirit. It gave me what I needed today.
Here’s the video: https://www.facebook.com/100008154548434/videos/2654273941521065/
The hymn’s chorus says, “Sing we now, and on we go, / God above and God below, / arm in arm, in love we go, / onward to the kingdom.”
First, notice that God in this hymn isn’t a far away Being, but something surrounding us; “God above and God below.” Holiness is what we are living in. That can be hard to discern in days like this, where everything is so unsteady and unsure; and yet, I believe it is true. If we turn towards those we love, turn towards the beauty of the natural world, turn towards books, music, or any other source that reminds us of it, I believe we can find that there is still a tender Spirit of Life surrounding us. Beauty and love and the Sublime are still real.
“arm in arm, in love we go.” Of course, these days I can’t literally join you arm in arm. I can, though, hold you in my heart. We can call each other on the phone, or write letters like was so common long ago. Here at UUFF we are looking at how to use virtual spaces to create opportunities for us to still be together. I feel that hunger for my loved ones right now. This is a moment where we remember that only “arm in arm” and “in love” can we go. But go where?
“Onward to the kingdom.” In the teachings of Jesus, “the kingdom” refers to the ideal world where all are radically equal, where there are no more barriers separating us from each other. Gender, economic class, ideas of sinner vs. saint… all those walls are torn down. Those who are spiritually without vision or discernment finally understand. For Jesus, “the kingdom” was not only in the future, but right here in the present. “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). While “kingdom” isn’t my preferred image for such a perfect world (I prefer “Beloved Community”), the meaning is the same. That better world, is it waiting on the other side of this pandemic? Will we learn, in this experience, to turn towards our neighbors and love each other in a new way? Will we finally begin to see ourselves as one global community, not merely a single nation? I don’t know. But maybe that depends on what we do right now.
I offer this hymn to you. On this Saint Patricks’ Day, may it bring you the same peace it gave to me.
“Arm in arm, in love we go, onward to the kingdom”