Sunday, October 7, 2007
Palo Alto, CA
I first heard Fire of Commitment on a CD of the 2005 General Assembly choir, and it immediately made me wish I had been there, in that auditorium, singing with them. Jason Shelton, the song’s composer, was also that choir’s director and that performance’s pianist. It was clearly a labor of love for him, and the choir, some hundreds strong I imagined, sounded unstoppable.
A quick aside — Jason Shelton, is also the creator of the anthem Standing on the Side of Love, a statement for marriage equality. Fire, and Standing are among the 75 songs representing a wide range of non-European classical musical traditions — African American, Native American, Buddhist, Latino — included in the UUA’s supplement to our hymnal, “Singing the Journey.” We could not offer the music or lyrics in print for you today, and therefore will not be singing it, because we are not able to make photocopies without owning a sufficient number of “Singing the Journey” books.
Fire of Commitment is not easy to sing or accompany. In fact, if you are not familiar with gospel and contemporary Christian rock rhythms, it can feel quite like a trial by fire when reading it for the first time. But, if you forget the time signature — a fast mix of 3s and 2s — and all those manic triplets in the piano, and just listen with your heart and soul, it is inspiring, driving, motivating music.
The words are an exhortation to return to the sources of truth and light that remind us to be our best selves when the chips are down. It reminds me of the immediate and sudden appearance of all those American flags in the days just after 9/11 when the world wanted to say they stood committed with the U.S. against terrorism. Back then, those flags were not a call to war or a symbol of military support, but a reminder that the world shared America’s ideals: indivisible, with liberty and justice for all — all genders, all creeds, all people.
Although the lyrics’ image is one of fire, the musical feeling to me is one of surging water. The unusual rhythm, a 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2, creates an urgent flow that, like a powerful current, that cannot be stopped by any rocks in its path. The hymn must move on, push forward, combine with larger flowing rivers, gaining more strength until, no longer opposed, it pours its life force into an ocean of justice without fear. The music lands on a strong final cadence, but the words remind us that only after commitment is made can action begin.
From the light of days remembered burns a beacon bright and clear,
Guiding hands and hearts and spirits into faith set free from fear.
When the fire of commitment sets our mind and soul ablaze,
When our hunger and our passion meet to call us on our way,
When we live with deep assurance of the flame that burns within,
Then our promise finds fulfillment and our future can begin.