One of the things I hear very often from fellowship members is “I don’t really miss the church or worship traditions that I was raised with…but I miss the music”.  (Feedback like this is one of the reasons why we host the annual Christmas Carol sing every December – regardless of spiritual growth, the music from our childhood worship moves us for the rest of our lives.)  After learning that today’s sermon would discuss how our religious lives can help us with current events, I saw an opportunity to play one of my favorite arrangements of the wonderful old spiritual “There is a Balm in Gilead”, a song that I knew many people would remember from the Protestant church services of their pasts.  The titular “Balm of Gilead” was a rare, medicinal perfume produced in Gilead (a region in modern-day Jordan); it made frequent appearances in the Old Testament, but the term eventually came to refer to a universal cure of sorts.  In the context of this song, the balm in question is salvation through Jesus Christ.  Christians and non-Christians alike can embrace the idea of drawing strength, healing, and spiritual fulfillment from a greater power during those times when we do feel wounded, discouraged, and in need of revival.

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.
Sometimes I feel discouraged, 
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
 Revives my soul again.
In December, the UUFC presented a service built around composer Tim Takach’s breathtaking song cycle “The Longest Nights”.  Takach unveiled this cycle in 2015 with a unique, nationwide reveal: one choir from each state was selected to perform “The Longest Nights”, and during the winter of 2015, almost every state in the nation got to hold its own special state premiere of this work.  Some truly excellent ensembles were chosen for each state’s premiere, and our very own Corvallis High School’s award-winning singers – led by OSU alumna Aubrey Patterson –  were the Oregon representatives in Takach’s consortium of choirs.  Takach has set these secular texts beautifully, and the UUFC choir performed four SATB movements from the cycle last December.  We saved the men’s and women’s songs for a later date, and they fit into today’s service beautifully.  One of my favorite elements about the Takach cycle is the persistent musical motives he uses to tie the multiple movements together.  Even though today’s choral selections were new to you, it was our hope that they would still seem familiar due to the thematic musical material shared between the performances from today and last December.
“The Longest Nights” is new enough that there are no professional or semi-professional recordings/videos available for public consumption.  However, as gorgeous as Takach’s music is, his carefully selected texts hold a power of their own.  The men’s song “Many-Splendored Thing drops to a piano  dynamic toward the song’s end, as they sing “Keep silent”…words that are repeated again and again in a gradual diminuendo until the final “keep” is barely a shadow in the air, with a dynamic marking of pianississimo (ppp) and the word “silent” defines itself through action rather than song and is never uttered.  Keep silent…an important part of Jill’s message for us today.  Do we need to organize, to speak up, to fight for what we feel is right?  Yes, always!  But there are times when being quiet serves us – we can listen, which is so important.  We can learn.  And we can gain some peace.  As Jill stated, the practice of silence is complicated and hard, but shared silence can teach us some things that we need to know.
“After Harvest”, the women’s song from “The Longest Nights”, paints a haunting picture of an autumnal world turned brown and bare before its transformation into the icy beauty of winter.  One passage in particular however stands out and goes hand-in-hand with today’s sermon:
 We need the strength of all we can endure,
To grant what earth gives up and make it sure.
The twining and the gath’ring is the easy part –
The rind’s now ripe and heavy like the heart.
Quite frankly, a sermon with a theme “How to Walk on Eggshells” stumped me when I first read this title in the announcements.  David teasingly told me to go for it when I joked that today’s postlude could just be the little tune I learned that went along with “Humpty Dumpty” as a child.  However, Jill’s sermon pointed me toward one song in particular, especially after hearing her talk about how we, like eggshells, are fragile but also hold surprising strength.  The best way to deal with our uncertainty, our fear, our outrage is to act with compassion, face the world bravely, and most importantly, work together.  The power from which justice grows comes from being together, and hearing each other.   If we listen to one another, organize, and draw courage from one another, we can grow stronger together and deal with the injustices and wrongdoing in the world.
“Rent”, Jonathan Larson’s very loose modern-day telling of Puccini’s La Boheme.  There is a scene in which two characters sing about their conflicting ideologies: Roger lives in fear and longs for shelter, while Mimi wants to face the world and live life to the fullest.  For two people who have such difference ideas about life, the two have much in common; Roger is HIV-positive, an underappreciated musician, while Mimi is also HIV-positive, a misunderstood exotic dancer addicted to heroin.  Mimi’s part of the duet “Another Day” could almost have been written as an anthem for today’s service.

The heart may freeze, or it can burn
The pain will ease if I can learn

There is no future, there is no past
I live this moment as my last

There’s only us, there’s only this
Forget regret, or life is yours to miss

No other road, no other way
No day but today

There’s only now, there’s only here
Give in to love or live in fear

No other path, no other way
No day but today.
No day but today.

Video of “Another Day” with lyrics