|"Spirit of Life" for Zither|
To me, it seems like “Spirit of Life” could be called the theme song for our Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Somerset Hills in Somerville, New Jersey, USA. Yet McDade did not write “Spirit of Life” as a hymn. She thinks of it “as a living prayer, not a hymn.” It quickly spread in the 1980s among groups of women activists with which she worked, including the Unitarian-Universalist Association and the UU Community Church of Boston. Almost unknown to her, her song began spreading from hand to hand from one UU church to another, capturing the hearts of those who sang it. By the 1990s, it had become so well loved, that it moved Rev. Mark Belletini, who chaired the UU Association hymnbook commission, to remark “… we thought, if we don’t put ‘Spirit of Life’ in the book, we’ll all be killed.” Although McDade was reluctant, saying “I don’t feel like a hymn writer,” compromise was reached and her song became Hymn 123 under the heading “Love and Compassion.”
While the two new introductory verses will likely fade away, yielding to McDade’s wishes, hopefully the zither arrangement will help spread the song and original lyrics to new audiences. After all, it’s not really a hymn, it’s a prayer - a prayer that we can move ourselves and help others. For me, it’s also a prayer that I can move my fingers to the right zither string at the right time … and I don’t mind humming a couple of verses while I play.