Our minds might go to different places when we hear the word “sanctuary”, but at the end of the day, sanctuary implies refuge, safety, and a sacred or special location. Sanctuary can be a city, a school, or a church; the UUFC and all UU fellowships are clear on their position as being places where people can feel safe, welcome, and loved. But sanctuary goes beyond a physical space…sanctuary can be an attitude held, a service provided, or the act of being a compassionate person to those who feel unsafe, unwelcome, and unloved.
It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes I play different selections for the two Sunday services; I usually have a concept of what the service theme and sermon title mean to me, but this concept can change after I’ve heard the sermon, which sometimes provides a new avenue of thought that affects my musical choices. Today was one of those days when some music changed between services. The prelude for the first service, “Homeward Bound” by Marta Keen and Jay Althouse, has become standard repertoire for choirs, solo singers, and instrumental ensembles over the past decade. Everyone can relate to this heartfelt song about the comfort and quiet joy of coming back home, and it has even become an anthem for soldiers returning from war. The beautiful text is set with a simple, lovely tune that every performer and listening can translate into their own personal feelings about homecoming whether they be solace, relief, or peace.
When the summer’s ceased it’s gleaming
When the corn is past its prime
When adventure’s lost its meaning
I’ll be homeward bound in time
Then the wind will set me racing
As my journey nears its end
Then the path I’ll be retracing
When I’m homeward bound again
After hearing Walter’s sermon, I decided to play a different piece for the second service’s prelude. Todays second prelude is by Stephen Schwartz, who was once referred to by Pulitzer-Prize-winning Lin-Manuel Miranda as the composer “who has written everything you love”, which includes Godspell, Wicked, and Pippin. His music from Disney’s animated The Hunchback of Notre Dame ranges from the wild and raucous music from France’s Festival of Fools to the heartbreaking songs sung by the marginalized: the physically deformed, women, gypsies. Sanctuary is a theme that runs very deeply in Victor Hugo’s Hunchback, and is hauntingly expressed in “God Help the Outcasts”. The beautiful but persecuted gypsy Esmeralda has been saved from an unjust arrest by seeking sanctuary in the Notre Dame cathedral and prays to God to see and help the downtrodden. The song’s lyrics are staggeringly appropriate for this day and age, and seem as if they were written with current events in mind.
I don’t know if there’s a reason
Why some are blessed, some not
Why the few You seem to favor
They fear us, flee us
Try not to see us
God help the outcasts
The tattered, the torn
Seeking an answer
To why they were born
Winds of misfortune
Have blown them about
You made the outcasts
Don’t cast them out
The poor and unlucky
The weak and the odd
I thought we all were
The children of God
Many know the tune “Home Sweet Home”, but few know the story behind this almost 200-year-old song. “Home Sweet Home” is composer John Howard Payne’s most well-known and enduring song; originally written for English opera Clari, or The Maid of Milan, this short ballad soon eclipsed it’s encompassing work and became popular in the United States as a standalone work. The song had such strong connotations of home and family that it was reportedly banned from being played in Union Army camps during the American Civil War as some thought it might cause soldiers to become so homesick to the point of desertion.
Heather Emberson stood up during joys and sorrows and and shared a portion of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”, which had been running through her head for the past few weeks…when the congregation spontaneously began singing along, it because clear that this song held meaning on several different levels for many people, and as it fortuitously has a very similar harmonic progression with Payne’s picee, it was incorporated into the the second service’s music for meditation to form a mashup with “Home Sweet Home”.
Walter gave a wonderfully poignant performance of Carrie Newcomer’s “Sanctuary”. The chorus plaintively asks:
Will you be my refuge, my haven in the storm?
Will you keep the embers warm when my fire’s all but gone?
Will you remember and bring me sprigs of rosemary, be my sanctuary
‘Til I can carry on, carry on, carry on?
This question was answered in today’s postlude, Simon and Garfunkel’s wonderful “Bridge Under Troubled Water”.
When you’re down and out, when you’re on the street,
When evening falls so hard, I will comfort you.
I’ll take your part, oh, when darkness comes
And pain is all, is all around
Just like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down
Like a bridge over trouble water, I will lay me down.