Some of our music this morning, including the hymns, was selected with the Jewish High Holy Days—the Days of Awe—in mind: The introit, “Return Again,” was composed by Shlomo Carlebach (1925–94), known to his followers as the “Singing Rabbi.” The song invites us to enter into another year of worship and fellowship in our church home, much as Rabbi Shlomo encouraged secular Jews to embrace their religious heritage (a 20th-century phenomenon known as Baal teshuva, or repentance of sinners), to “return to the home” of our souls.
Today’s offertory: The German Romantic composer and conductor Max Bruch (1838-1920) completed his “Kol Nidrei” (All Vows) for cello and orchestra in 1880. The piece contains two distinct themes: the first is based on the cantor’s recitation of the Kol Nidre prayer offered during the first night of Yom Kippur; the second melody quotes a setting by the English composer Isaac Nathan of Lord Byron’s verse “O Weep for Those that Wept on Babel’s Stream.”
Finally, the choir’s anthem, “I Believe,” is by the prolific African American composer Mark A. Miller, who, according to his web site “believes passionately that music can change the world” and that, in the words of Cornel West, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Miller’s dream is “that the music he composes, performs, teaches and leads will inspire and empower people to create the beloved community.”
According to the composer, the text of “I Believe” is an anonymous Jewish poem. According to the blog “The Humanist Seminarian,” written by Everett Howe, a former intern minister at Throop UU Church in Pasadena, California, the origins of the poem are unclear at best, and the lyrics appear to have been altered significantly from the form in which they were first published: “The earliest printed reference I could find was from the July 13th, 1945, edition of the Quaker publication The Friend, from London, which gives a partial transcript (translated into English) of a German language BBC European Service radio show. A German P.O.W. held in England . . . is quoted by The Friend as saying this:
In a shelter in Cologne, where young Catholics were keeping some Jews in hiding because their lives were threatened, American soldiers found the following inscription:
I believe in the sun—even when it is not shining.
I believe in God—even when He is silent.
I believe in love—even when it is not apparent.”