Song of the Universal

This is a time of year when we think most about universal themes – things like hope and peace and those things which bring people together, like singing carols or gathering around a meal.  The “feel good” quality of a “happy holidays!” greeting might seem cheesy and superficial, but maybe it’s also a tiny step towards living into those universal songs of hope and peace.

This is a piece I’ve gotten to live with these past few months as one of the choirs I work with learned it for their concerts a few weeks ago. Norwegian composer Ola Gjeillo found his inspiration in the words of American poet Walt Whitman, and wrote about his chosen text: “I love the unabashed optimism, exuberance and his unwavering confidence in our deeper humanity – all through the prism of a big, warm, beating heart.”

Gjeillo sets part of Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”:

COME, said the Muse,

Sing me a song no poet yet has chanted, Sing me the Universal.

In this broad Earth of ours,
Amid the measureless grossness and the slag, Enclosed and safe within its central heart, Nestles the seed Perfection.

By every life a share, or more or less,
None born but it is born—conceal’d or unconceal’d, the seed is waiting.

Give me, O God, to sing that thought!
Give me—give him or her I love, this quenchless faith
In Thy ensemble. Whatever else withheld, withhold not from us, Belief in plan of Thee enclosed in Time and Space;
Health, peace, salvation universal.

All, all for Immortality!
Love, like the light, silently wrapping all!
Nature’s amelioration blessing all!
The blossoms, fruits of ages—orchards divine and certain; Forms, objects, growths, humanities, to spiritual Images ripening.

So wonderful to think about the possibility of the “seed Perfection” nestling with the “grossness and slag,” but one of the poem’s lines, not set by Gjeillo, is the anthem I want to sing in 2019:

“Only the good is universal.”

What a leap of faith, amidst so much pain and turmoil in our world, to think of misery as fleeting and that which is good as what will last.

Maybe it seems cheesy and superficial to approach the new year with the exuberance and confidence in our deeper humanity that Gjeillo and Whitman want us to feel, but it is the only step I know how to take towards living into the universal songs of hope and peace that our world needs to be singing.

Happy New Year!


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This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of connections between old and new.

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