When I was growing up, when we went to church (which basically stopped happening except on Christmas and Easter when the Episcopal Church changed its prayer book, and my father couldn't stand the way they'd ruined the poetry of the old one), the only thing I liked about the services were the hymns. I used to wish we would cut out some of those prayers (I actually liked that new prayer book my father so hated, because it did) and just sing more hymns. Oh, and that sermon could definitely go, too. I suppose what I really wanted was just a good old-fashioned hymn sing with everyone calling out his or her favorite hymns to be sung.
I now get to attend one of those. On the first Sunday of every month from May through September, our church holds a hymn sing at the Old Church down the road. I love it, even if we do sing a bunch of old-timey hymns that are not the ones I sang in church as a child, the sorts I tend to associate with Baptists and gospel choirs, not Episcopalians and chamber singers. I never seem to be quick enough to call out any of my favorite hymns to sing, though.
I have many favorite hymns, but one of them is one that I did not actually grow up singing in my church. I sang a version of it at the Lutheran elementary school I attended where we knew it as "I Danced in the Morning." It's a song written to an American Shaker melody, and it's the melody that I really love. When I started attending Presbyterian churches as an adult, I came to find that they often sang not only "I Danced in the Morning," but also the original Shaker version "Simple Gifts." This version is beautiful, much more so than the one I learned as a child, its philosophy being one that all people would do well to embrace, so it's the one I'm giving you today. (Go find the music, though. That's the best part of it.)
by Joseph Brackett, Jr.
'Tis the gift to be simple,
'tis the gift to be free,
'tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
It will be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
'Til by turning, turning we come round right.
'Tis the gift to be loved and that love to return,
'Tis the gift to be taught and a richer gift to learn,
And when we expect of others what we try to live each day,
Then we'll all live together and we'll all learn to say,
'Tis the gift to have friends and a true friend to be,
'Tis the gift to think of others not to only think of "me",
And when we hear what others really think and really feel,
Then we'll all live together with a love that is real.