Tag Archives: UU hymns

Hymn: Enter, Rejoice, and Come In

Hymn: “Enter, Rejoice, and Come In” (#361 in UU hymnal, words and music by Louise Ruspini) 

This holiday season here in San Diego is cloudier than the weather we’ve had most of the time since our move here in May. When I first wrote this entry mid-November, we were having a foggy morning. I think of fog as calming, slowing down the pace of life. (Often it also slows the flow of automobile traffic, either through caution or through accident…)  Therefore it’s somewhat counterintuitive that the hymn that came into my mind as the day’s theme was among the “peppiest” of UU hymns. 

This year again we do not have holiday travel plans. Again, we will do our extended family gatherings virtually, wishing for a weakening of the pandemic before next Christmas. At some future time, we’ll have a chance to gather physically, once the infection rate is a lot lower. Perhaps the theme to this hymn can apply to virtual “entries” as well as physical ones:  

“Enter, rejoice, and come in, enter rejoice and come in,
Today will be a joyful day, enter, rejoice and come in.” 

We’re quite fortunate to have the capacity and technical ability to be able to do video conferencing this year. That calls for at least a minimum of rejoicing. 

This hymn about “entering” has a simple set of words, with a lively beat and a lot of repetition. I’ve previously sung it in choirs in several different settings. It typically is used as an “entrance hymn” for festive occasions. This year, it’s festive enough just to be alive and well. 

This Christmas Eve, we’ve just experienced a “real rain,” a somewhat rare event in our lives here so far—over an inch at the gauge I optimistically stationed in our small back yard yesterday. Our part of southern California could use more rain, though drought conditions here have been less severe than further north. The moisture is welcome, especially when some of it comes down gently. A Christmas gift a little early? Another minor cause for rejoicing. 

Postal and email holiday cards from faraway friends have reminded us of the varieties of pandemic responses in different parts of the world—Australian friends have endured six lockdowns so far in the urban center where they live. Yet between surges, they’ve been able to travel some in more rural areas, benefiting from the absence of foreign tourists and the relatively uncrowded conditions. 

This hymn’s second and third verses speak to the different senses we can use in celebration: (2) Open your ears to the song; (3) Open your hearts ev’ryone…

In past years, I’ve sometimes gotten hung up on verse 4: 

“Don’t be afraid of some change, don’t be afraid of some change,
Today will be a joyful day, enter, rejoice and come in.”

This year has seen so much change, some of it intentional, some of it a result of factors and viruses so far beyond anyone’s complete control, that learning to befriend change rather than fear it seems practical advice. 

If there are good antidotes for fear, one of them has to be joy, so the hymn’s words are apt, especially the repetition of welcome in verse 5:

“Enter, rejoice, and come in!”  

May the joy of holiday welcomes, in person or virtual, be with you and yours, wherever and however spread out you may be!  

Meditation/Appreciation of “Earth Was Given as a Garden”

“Earth was given as a garden, cradle for humanity; 
tree of life and tree of knowledge placed for our discovery.
Here was home for all your creatures born of land and sky and sea;
all created in your image, all to live in harmony.”

The first time I was exposed to this hymn was at a UU music camp a decade or so ago. This paean to our earthly garden echoed a lot of my beliefs about the value of gardens and the importance of caring for our home planet ( hear a rendition of all three verses at YouTube.com/watch?v=hmlV65kdt84). (A later set of words to the same tune also touches some of the same themes: “Blue Boat Home” by Peter Mayer, in later UU hymnal Singing the Journey as #1064, at YouTube.com/watch?v=0XziR3M2wYk). 

The first time I gardened was in childhood, I don’t remember exactly when. One season that sticks in my mind is a dry summer in Maryland in the mid-1950’s. I would have been about eight years old. During this drought, it was my job to water the bell pepper plants in our small hillside garden. A couple of times a week, I would haul a bucket of water uphill from the nearest outdoor spigot and carefully surround each pepper plant with water. My dad had dug a saucer-shaped trench around each pepper so the water would have more chances to soak in, rather than run off.

Later, when our family moved nearby to a larger house with a lot more land, we had a bigger garden, too far away from the house to water. Most years, extra water was not needed. I don’t think I contributed much to this garden, aside from eating the produce. I remember we used to grow corn. Somehow, the homegrown ears tasted sweeter than anything we could buy at the grocery store. Despite the predations of area raccoons, there was nearly always enough for a few delicious corn-on-the-cob meals. 

We also grew tomatoes. The red fruits were a bone of contention between human eaters and the local turtle population. Nearly every year, we’d find at least a couple of ripe tomatoes with substantial chunks eaten out of them. Actually, we didn’t mind the turtles’ inroads too much. Having turtles in the tomato patch made it easier to find a competitor for that year’s 4th of July turtle race—a neighborhood tradition. For several weeks before the 4th, we kids were busy scouting out turtles and putting them into temporary quarters in cardboard boxes or somewhat more formal animal cages. We’d feed them lettuce and vegetable table scraps and try to “train” them so they’d be in top form for the race.

When the big event came, around noon at the neighborhood picnic, we’d carefully place each turtle under the bushel basket “starting gate” at the center of a roped-off circle. We’d whisper some final words of encouragement, then step back behind the rope circle to cheer our turtle on. Most turtles snoozed through the race, but each year produced a winner—at least one turtle valiantly lumbered toward his/her former remembered home in the tomato patch.   

The year my new husband and I moved from a series of urban environments to Vermont in a somewhat misguided attempt to “return to the land,” I became a part-time adult gardener. We purchased a small house on a wedge-shaped lot in the state’s capital city, Montpelier. Because we moved in November, it was a half year or so before I could put seeds into the ground. I did start some tomatoes indoors—local lore suggested beginning seedlings on “town meeting day,” a set date in March when all Vermont’s towns held local meetings. My seedlings were anemic and spindly. Later, once the danger of frost was mostly past, I replaced my homegrown efforts with hardier young plants from the local garden shop.  

In Vermont, I was able to grow cool weather crops that did not thrive in Maryland when I was growing up—romaine lettuce, broccoli, and a strange shaped brassica called kohlrabi. When my in-laws paid a visit in late summer, I proudly cooked them some homegrown kohlrabi. Afterwards, I belatedly learned that it was one of my father-in-law’s least favorite vegetables. While living with his mom and siblings on a friend’s Midwestern farm during the waning days of World War I, he’d been fed an overabundance of kohlrabi and had sworn off them for the rest of his life. Kohlrabis look like something out of a sci-fi movie—central orbs with little leafy projections sticking out of them. I was not sorry to have experimented with them. I just needed to remember never to serve them to my father-in-law again. 

Our experiment in Vermont living did not last long enough for me to become a very adept northern gardener, but it did whet my appetite for further garden attempts. Our next move, to Richmond, Virginia, included an initial stint of apartment living that did not foster gardening. However,  when we purchased a house with a yard, I was off to the races. The first chore was removing the growth of wild clematis that had vined its way across the back yard. Next came turning the hard soil and deciding what to plant. Tomatoes for sure. Maybe some corn. Peas, carrots, lettuce, scallions, onions, beans, eggplant, and one year, potatoes. My early harvests rarely made much of a dent in our grocery bill, but digging and hoeing and weeding the garden helped me let off steam, forestalling the escalation of many a family fight.    

Partway through our Richmond stay, I wandered further afield—to sub-Saharan Africa for a two-year stint in a Peace-corps-like program. Our younger son Scott and I lived in half of a small duplex at the edge of the United Nations housing complex in the small city of Bujumbura, Burundi. The climate there was much different from any I’d encountered before. Although day length and temperatures varied only a little during the year, the rainfall changes were stark. From May to September or October, it rarely rained at all. Maybe a brief occasional shower, but basically nothing. People who had vegetable gardens either watered them or arranged for anything to be dormant during this “long dry season.”  A smattering of  planting began in advance of the “short rainy season” that typically ran from late September until mid-December, when there could be a harvest of sorts. A “short dry season” in late December and January allowed us expats from Europe and North America several storm-free weeks in which to fly home for the winter holidays with our non-expat relatives. Then it was time to plant in earnest—the “long rainy season” was when most foodstuffs were grown. Staples like manioc, corn, and beans, plus fodder for the cattle and other ruminants, enough to last through the long dry season until pasturage again became available with the short rains. 

I tried growing beans and peas on trellises outside out kitchen door. They were kind of straggly, but I think we may have gotten a couple of meals’ worth. They certainly did little to replace our need for the town market, where our housekeeper bargained for most of our food. During my two-year stint, I learned a little about the predominantly rural, agrarian economy of Burundi. Population pressures were immense, so a diet based mostly on beans, corn, and manioc made much more sense than the western meat-heavy diet I’d been accustomed to before. 

Once back in Richmond, I refined my techniques. Eventually I was able to produce enough vegetables to reduce the carping from other family members about my “less-than-minimum-wage” work. 

“Besides,” I told them, “it’s a lot cheaper than psychotherapy.”  

Then, about the time the younger generation was ready to fly the nest, we moved to a larger house with a huge yard containing a level, sunny spot just perfect for gardening. Over time, I got better at outwitting the bunnies and squirrels. We eventually had lettuces, onions, tomatoes, squash, broccoli, asparagus, and a little corn. One year I experimented with popcorn—fun, but not all that practical, given the cheaply available store brands. 

The year we put the house up for sale, I went all out in spring planting. Maybe the well-ordered rows of lettuce, scallions and spinach encouraged the eventual buyers, who were also avid gardeners. The following year, my empty-nester husband and I lived in a northwestern Chinese desert. I tried windowsill gardening. Basil grew well with some pampering and watering. Our several other jaunts in China were either too brief or too busy to allow for a real garden. However, I reveled in the variety of produce available in the “garden province”  of Sichuan, where I spent over a year in total during the course of the next five years. 

Now I live in southern California, a climate best described in an earlier environmental book as a “Cadillac desert.” We have long, long dry seasons. If we are lucky, we get enough cool weather rains to green the hills a bit in January and February. I heard recently that some early fall rains this year had been unexpectedly generous, filling some of our parched reservoirs from a third to nearly half full. Still, not enough moisture to break a lingering multi-year drought. I’m studying rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation, mulching, and other water conservation techniques. Learning to live in harmony with this climate will make for an interesting, challenging gardening year.   

A Hymn-Inspired Variation on NaNoWriMo

As November 1, 2021 approached, I was intrigued by the concept of writing something special during the month of November. I wasn’t quite read to jump into an effort dubbed “NaNoWriMo,” or “national novel writing month,” now part of a global non-profit effort to encourage creative writing. I was aware that I don’t at this point have a novel in me. However, the discipline of writing something every day was appealing. 

After looking over my bulging bookcase, I decided that I’d try for a few days to write a daily appreciation of a favorite hymn and see where that effort took me. It resulted in 30 short to medium length essays, some fit for blog publication. I’ve included the complete hymn list at the end of this piece. Perhaps a few of my favorite hymns may speak to you as well.  

One of the aspects of social life that I’ve missed most during the pandemic is the practice of group singing, especially of choral singing in religious services. As the season of holiday choirs and caroling approaches, I miss this practice even more. So, for the next couple of weeks, I’ll post some additional “hymn appreciations” to the “Spiritual musings” thread of this blog. Where possible, I’ll include a link to an earlier example of an in-person choir performing the hymn, or to a pandemic-induced “virtual choir” performing. Best holiday wishes to all, and please, keep singing!   

As an introduction, I’ve penned a parody of a tune you may recognize, apologies to “The Sound of Music”…

Coolinge, Mandela, and Scots-English folk songs,
“Nothing but Peace,” tunes for righting of past wrongs,
Melodies passed down through thick and through thin,
These are some tunes to my favorite hymns.

Masten, and Jim Scott, and Denham and Câpek,
Writing last century on multiple topics,
Tunes and words wistful, or teeming with vim–
These authors crafted some favorite hymns.

“Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” “Climb Jacob’s Ladder,”
“We’ll Build a Land” with room for children’s laughter,
“Gather the Spirit” with fife or with drums,
These are a few of my favorite hymns.

In pandemics, when I’m lonely, when life seems too grim,
I simply locate real or virtual choirs, and belt out a favorite hymn.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

List of hymns profiled in November, 2021 writings; hymns included in UU hymnal Singing the Living Tradition:

Now I Recall My Childhood #191, words Rabindranath Tagore, tune Sursum
Corda
Earth Was Given as a Garden #207, words Roberta Bard, tune Hyfrydol
We Are a Gentle, Angry People #170, words and music Holly Near
Wake Now, My Senses #298, words T.J.S. Mikelson, tune Slane (Irish melody)
How Can I Keep from Singing #108, variation of Quaker hymn, tune traditional
Bright Morning Stars Are Rising #357, words anonymous, tune American folk
song
Nothing But Peace Is Enough #167, words and music Jim Scott

Seek Not Afar for Beauty #77, words M.J. Savage, tune Coolinge
Faith of the Larger Liberty #287, words V.B. Silliman, tune Bit Freuden Zart
Love Will Guide Us #131, words Sally Rogers, tune Olympia
One More Step #168, words and music Joyce Poley
Turn Back #120, words Clifford Bax; and Here We Have Gathered #360, words
Alicia Carpenter; tune Old 124th from 1543 Genevan Psalter
Sleep, My Child #409, words adapted Alicia Carpenter, tune Ar Had Y Nos
Blessed Spirit of My Life #86, words and music Shelley Jackson Denham

For All That Is Our Life #128, words Bruce Findlow, tune Sherman Island
Enter, Rejoice, and Come In #361, words and music Louise Ruspini
Mother Spirit, Father Spirit #8, words and music Norbert Câpek
Every Time I Feel the Spirit #208, African-American spiritual
We Sing Now Together #67, words E.T. Buehrer, tune arr. Edward Kremser
Let It Be a Dance #311, words and music Richard Masten
Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing #149, words James Weldon Johnson, music
J.Rosamond Johnson, dubbed by the NAACP as the Negro National Anthem

Though I May Speak with Bravest Fire #34, words Hal Hopson, and Surprised by
Joy #410 words Eric Routley; traditional Scottish or English folk tune
I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free #151, words and music Billy Taylor
and Dick Dallas, tune called “Mandela”
We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder #211, African-American spiritual and We Are
Dancing Sarah’s Circle #212, words by Carole A. Etzler
We’ll Build a Land #121m words by Barbara Zanotti, music Carolyn McDade
Lady of the Seasons’ Laughter #51, words Kendyl L.R. Gibbons, music David
Hurd
There Is More Love Somewhere #95, African American hymn, tune Biko
Light One Candle #221, words and music by Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and
Mary)

Gather the Spirit #347, words and music Jim Scott
I Know This Rose Will Open #396, words and music Mary Grigolia

 

 

 

Meditation/Appreciation of Hymn “Light One Candle”

(#221 in UU hymnal Singing the Living Tradition

The Jewish festival of Hanukkah happens about this time each year. It’s a minor Jewish festival compared to the high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which typically occur in September or early October.  However, because of its calendar proximity to Christmas, in many Western countries the holiday has been adapted to include some Christmas-like traditions. Even some non-Jews make respectful references to Hanukkah.  

Hymn 221 is the first of three hymns in the UU hymnal for the Hanukkah season. It’s somewhat contemporary, having been composed in the early 1980’s by Peter Yarrow, member of the former folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary. I probably first heard Peter Yarrow when he, Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers performed the Bob Dylan song “Blowin’ in the Wind” at the 1963 civil rights March on Washington. As I grew up and later attended college, songs sung by Peter, Paul, and Mary became part of the soundtrack of my cohort.

This hymn begins with a reference to the Maccabees, a Jewish sect in Palestine during the 2nd century B.C. Depending on which sources you reference, the Maccabees may have been dedicated and self-sacrificing revolutionaries fighting an arrogant Syrian conqueror, or religious bigots bent on enforcing their narrow interpretation of Jewish law, or some combination of the two. Religious observances by Jews of that era ranged along a continuum that placed mostly rural more traditional Jews near one end of the spectrum and urbanized/Hellenized Jews near the other. Sounds vaguely familiar. 

The story most of us hear about the Maccabees is that they reconstructed and then rededicated the main temple in Jerusalem after it had been converted for Hellenistic worship. They wanted to celebrate the temple’s rededication using sacred oil, but had only enough for a single day. Miraculously, this oil lasted eight days, enough time for the worshippers to obtain a further supply. Modern Hanukkah celebrations often use a candelabrum called a menorah, with a central candle and eight surrounding candles, one for each of the eight days that the sacred oil lasted. 

Yarrow, of Jewish background if not active religious practice, asks us first to “light one candle for the Maccabee children with thanks that their light didn’t die.” As the verse continues, it gets more generic: “Light one candle for the terrible sacrifice justice and freedom demand.” Then it offers something of a sop: “But light one candle for the wisdom to know when the peacemaker’s time is at hand.” 

The second verse offers more reasons to light candles; the third asks mostly rhetorical questions about why to light the candles at all:

“What is the mem’ry that’s valued so highly we keep it alive in that flame?

What’s the commitment to those who have died when we cry out they’ve not died in vain?

Have we come this far always believing that justice would somehow prevail?”

And then the zinger:

“This is the burden and this is the promise and this is why we will not fail.” 

All three verses share a rousing chorus:

“Don’t let the light go out, it’s lasted for so many years.

Don’t let the light go out, let it shine through our love and our tears.” 

Several performances of the hymn have been posted to YouTube, among them a 1988 holiday concert the trio performed with backup chorus, which you may find at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3iXadyBSiHQ.  

I had an idealized impression of Peter, Paul, and Mary, so was dismayed to learn when I researched this piece that Peter had much earlier been convicted of taking “indecent liberties with a minor” in 1970 and had served three months in jail. He later got a presidential pardon as Jimmy Carter left office. A legal case has recently been filed accusing Yarrow of a different incident in 1969. 

In typical human fashion, I find it harder to deal with immoral behavior on the part of people I generally hold in high esteem. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of tribalism, condemning bad behavior by those of a different political persuasion or religious denomination while trying to excuse or rationalize such behavior by those I consider “my team.” From what little I can tell, Yarrow is repentant, reformed, and perhaps at age 83 somewhat hazy on what did or did not happen back in 1969. He still performs occasionally with grown daughter Bethany and/or grown son Christopher. Perhaps Carter was wise to realize how far short of the glory of God all of us can fall at times. 

This year’s Hannukah celebration will end well before Christmas, but it’s after Thanksgiving already. Home dwellers, commercial establishments, and religious sites are gradually festooning their venues with candles and lights. 

Because of the part of a time zone I now live in, physical darkness comes early in the evening this time of year. Not a big fan of the dark, I’m counting the days and minutes until our evening light eventually starts lengthening again. In the meantime, I can enjoy illuminated walks in our neighborhood, thrilling to the lights from many more than one candle. 

Now can seem a dark psychological time in our collective history as well, tinged by a pandemic, civil unrest, intermittent resource shortages, and a variety of societal ills. Through it all, may I remember to keep my own candle burning. Please trim and tend yours, too!    

Meditation on “Blessed Spirit of My Life”

(#86 in Unitarian-Universalist hymnal Singing the Living Tradition

Today, November 14, 2021, would have been my sister Sally’s 70th birthday. She died a bit more than 13 months shy of it. For the final few years of her life, she was a sometime attendee at a UU fellowship in Gettysburg, PA, about a 20 mile commute from her rural Maryland farm. For the final several months of her life, once the covid pandemic started causing shutdowns and panic, Sal phoned me regularly on Sunday evenings. We’d catch up on the week’s events, and reassure each other that both of us were still alive. We didn’t discuss religion much. Sal did say that the Gettysburg church was not an ideal match for her, but the closest connection she’d found for her evolving beliefs. Both of us had been raised primarily in an Episcopal congregation. We relished many of its ceremonies and much of its music, if not always its doctrines. 

I did not attend Sal’s memorial service, held at her White Rose Farm on a beautiful autumn day. The timing coincided with the first day of early voting in North Carolina, where I then lived and participated as an election official. I was pretty sure Sally would forgive me for prioritizing election work in an exceedingly fraught year. Family members who were at the service said they were pretty sure that some of the Gettysburg UU’s showed up, and that several had been regular volunteers for the agricultural education project that Sal ran a couple of days a week.

The pandemic was hard on Sal, both financially and emotionally. It cut off much of the income she’d derived from renting out an auxiliary house on the farm as an airbnb retreat. It made conducting her educational events both less income-producing and more stressful—requiring sanitizing protocols, masking, and distancing beyond what would have been the case pre-pandemic. 

The Sunday before Sally died, she phoned earlier in the evening than typical and didn’t sound well. My husband and I were in the car, returning home after getting that year’s flu shots (a covid vaccine was still several months into the future). 

“I’ve been through a rough patch,” Sal said without elaboration, “but I think I’m getting better.” 

“Do you want me to come up?” I said, somewhat grudgingly making mental notes of how I’d arrange an interstate trip during a pandemic and how I’d get hubby primed to take care of himself solo for several days.

“No,” she said. “Talk with you next week.” 

Next Sunday was too late. A friend of hers, an alternative medicine practitioner with whom she’d made an appointment she didn’t keep, found Sally dead in the living room of her farmhouse that Friday afternoon. As best we can tell, she suffered a fatal heart attack or stroke sometime during the night of Thursday-Friday or early on Friday morning. 

It took a while this morning before I picked out what I hope is an appropriate “hymn for Sally.” It was composed by one of the few UU musicians I’ve had a chance to meet in person—Shelley Jackson Denham. I thought I’d heard somewhere that Jackson Denham had died too early as well. It took several rounds of internet sleuthing to validate that this hymn writer and musician born in 1950, a year before my sister, had indeed left us physically. Shelley had succumbed to a fatal heart attack in 2013, several months after the sudden death of her husband. It must have been shortly before then that I’d attended a music workshop where Shelley was a co-presenter. Several singers from our choir had carpooled to The Mountain, a UU conference center in western North Carolina. We’d spent most of a week singing and reveling in the community-building power of music, which seemed also to be a tenet of Shelley’s faith. 

I like to think of both Shelley and Sally participating in a celestial choir somewhere and creating community with this Shelley hymn: 

“Blessed Spirit of my life, give me strength through stress and strife,
Help me live with dignity; let me know serenity.
Fill me with a vision, clear my mind of fear and confusion.
When my thoughts flow restlessly, let peace find a home in me.

Spirit of great mystery, hear the still, small voice in me.
Help me live my wordless creed as I comfort those in need.
Fill me with compassion, be the source of my intuition.
Then, when life is done for me, let love be my legacy.”

May you both rest well, Shelley and Sally, and may we honor and live up to your legacies. 

Ladders and Circles

Ladders and Circles    —by Jinny Batterson

On a recent Sunday morning, our congregation sang “We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder,” an adaptation of a 19th century African-American spiritual, in a service about accountability. Even though the word “accountability” has been mouthed by those in positions of power for more than a human generation—holding teachers accountable for students’ performance, holding office holders accountable for appropriate sexual conduct, and so on—many of our current social, political, and environmental structures are not accountable, either to human or to planetary well-being.  If I understood the hymn’s relevance, its implication was that our society has failed to provide needed ladders for those in poverty or distress to climb their way out, or even to reach an escape ladder at all.  Our minister urged us to consider both personal and societal changes to bring our behavior into closer alignment with our professed values of human dignity and worth.  Later in the day, I got a second dose of “accountability audit” from social activist William Barber II, who came to Raleigh to speak at a different congregation as part of the intensification of a nationwide Poor People’s Campaign. Barber combined individuals’ stories of living in poverty with statistics about our worsening wealth imbalances, war profiteering, voter suppression, and degradation of the natural environment. He highlighted the huge gaps between what we profess as a nation founded on the principle of a “more perfect union” and the ways many of our current institutions operate.

Through both morning and evening church, I kept the image of ladders in mind. But I also remembered a different shape. In our UU hymnal, “Singing the Living Tradition,” we’ve frequently borrowed hymn tunes from other Christian traditions and tweaked the lyrics to make the language less full of “almighty God” talk and more inclusive of the glorious spectrum of humanity. During the morning’s service, I noticed that on the page facing the hymn about Jacob’s ladder was a more recent addition, “We Are Dancing Sarah’s Circle.”

Most of my life I’ve been uncomfortable with a strictly hierarchical view of the world. Of course when I was a child, I knew that my parents were nearly always in charge of our family, but as I grew up, I increasingly found that overly general mentions of ladders and of “higher” or “lower” could set my teeth on edge. I often prefer images of circles, where power and movement can flow in many directions—in, out, up, down, right, left, forward, back. I have yet to come up with any consistent long-term way to balance my needs for hierarchies and fairly fixed structures with my needs to remain fluid and adaptable—the balance shifts over time. Implying a gendered component from the names “Jacob” and “Sarah” in the facing hymns would be imperfect and incomplete—the term “pecking order,” after all, refers to hens, not to roosters. 

Most of those in positions of formal leadership struggle with issues of hierarchy and ladders, I believe. Aside from pressing a “big button” and potentially blowing the planet to pieces, or firing advisors who are perceived as insufficiently loyal, our national chief executive has few powers as an individual. He/she must rely on the acquiescence of others to carry out his/her commands. He/she must cajole, inspire, and/or bully others into doing his/her bidding. 

Those in circles of various kinds face other challenges—determining who is in charge of what can be confusing. Diffuse power can lead to overall powerlessness. Yet in many ways circles are more resilient. The absence or death of a single member, or even of a proportion of the overall membership, does not necessarily destroy a circle. Often new members step in to fill the gaps. Circle members learn a variety of skills, so that leadership can rotate with little decrease in overall effectiveness. A different hymn, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” written in the early 20th century and frequently adapted since, speaks to the long life of circles.

So let’s celebrate ladders and work to make them more accessible to all who need them, but let’s not forget that circles are important, too.