Morning has broken

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first word
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word

I was 23 when I was baptized (for the first time). Shortly afterwards, I moved to Indiana. I carefully researched churches and found a United Church of Christ congregation that looked progressive, warm, and alive. David and I were both in graduate school in Indiana, so we spent most of our time with other people in their early-to-mid twenties. But at church…we caught young children by the shoulder as they sprinted around during coffee hour, reminding them to slow down lest they knock over an elderly person. We passed the peace of Christ to teenagers in T-shirts, and teared up when new babies were baptized. We read The New Jim Crow for the adult Sunday school class, and listened to our fellow congregants’ memories of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. My circle became multi-generational in a way it had never been before — one of the best gifts of joining a faith community.

David and I joined the choir, attending rehearsals every Thursday evening and Sunday morning before worship. We wore polyester yellow robes with different colored stoles appropriate to the liturgical season. Often we felt a little resentful while driving to the church on Thursday evening; always we were glad to have gone. David sat next to a man named Al. He was a retired biology professor, an outdoorsperson, and a passionate environmentalist. And mostly, to us, he was a friend who asked after us and chatted with us and sang with us twice a week. When Al was diagnosed with leukemia, the choir moved out of the choir loft so that Al and his wife could sit there, allowing him to attend church despite his lack of immune system. By spring, Al was too weak to leave his home. The choir gathered early on Easter and walked, in our Sunday best, to stand outside Al’s house and sing to him, including his favorite hymn, Morning Has Broken. His wife explained that he was too weak to come sit on the porch, but that she had opened the windows — he was listening.

Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness, where His feet pass

We sang again at his funeral just several months later, and listened to his daughters speak about their wonderful childhood going on family camping trips, hikes, and bike rides, singing Morning Has Broken and other hymns while they did so. His colleagues shared about his passion for teaching biology to undergraduates. Two years later, the church finally had raised enough money to install solar panels, a long-term project about which Al and his wife were particularly passionate (the family asked for donations towards this project in lieu of flowers). The energy costs of the building are tremendous — not only does the church operate services and meetings, but it also hosts a homeless shelter one night a week during the winter, a Head Start pre-k program five days a week, Alcoholics Anonymous groups on weeknights, and various other programs, concerts for music students…and now it does so using the power of the sun.

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day

Years later, just after we moved away from Indiana, David and I ended up almost by random chance spending a couple of nights in the small English village of Alfriston. We went for a fifteen mile long loop hike to the Seven Sisters cliffs and back. We didn’t have a day bag so David wore a duffel bag like a backpack to carry our sack lunches and water bottle. We didn’t have hiking boots — just sneakers (in my case) or Dockers (in David’s). It was one of the best days of our lives, and a day when we learned what we love to do (go for long, long walks, especially in the English countryside). Now, with our own child, we are beginning a tradition of Saturday walks — not very long walks yet, but she is only five months old, after all. We will sing hymns and recite poems with her as we walk, as Al and his wife did with their daughters.

Yesterday, David and I went to a state park here in New York to hike with the baby. We drove through a village where one of our church friends from Indiana grew up — I texted him to let him know, and we made plans to catch up on the phone sometime, and he told me how much he loves the hike we were setting out to do. I looked up the hymn Morning Has Broken, curious about its origins, and I learned that the text was written in 1931 by Eleanor Farjeon, inspired by…the village of Alfriston. And somehow, in all these different places we have been, it all ties together.

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing, fresh from the Word


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s