by Mel Bringle, FHS
A poem honoring the 100th anniversary of The Hymn Society

In the beginning, they met on Miss Perkins’ veranda
each May, with rhythmic regularity.
A small circle of friends, they shared the joys
of scholarship and singing,
to a backdrop of distant woodpeckers,
and scents of verbena wafting up from the lawn,
bright as the last, lingering daffodils.

At Riverdale-on-Hudson, nature was waking from sleep.
There were wider awakenings as well:
a corner had turned from the “war to end all wars”
(although it was not and did not);
an influenza pandemic had finally receded.

But not all was well in that first year of our gathering, 1922.
The global economy lay in tatters;
Mohandas Gandhi was imprisoned for sedition.
Mussolini was marching on Rome,
a tramp of boots echoing beneath the woodpeckers,
a whiff of fascism tainting the verbena-scented air.

That spring, in Washington, DC,
the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated.
The featured speaker rose to the podium
from his assigned seat in the “colored” section.
(Emancipation, it seems, is a single act;
equality, a far longer arc in the moral universe.
And though we trust in the justice of God,
we know the arc does not always swing forwards.)

Still, at Riverdale-on-Hudson, they sang,
these friends, their numbers growing year by year,
responding to postcards from Miss Perkins,
some even reaching across the pond.
Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
they met to make their music.
And now, a century onward,
with rhythmic regularity,
so do we.

Is this persistent practice
mere whistling in the dark,
feigning courage when so much else elicits fear:
shootings in our streets, our supermarkets, our schools;
an insidious erosion of rights;
the back-swinging of the moral arc;
a whiff of fascism once more in the air?

Or is it what God’s people do,
obeying the eleventh commandment:
O, sing to the Lord, all the earth?
Is it the way we break open to the Spirit
still brooding over the chaos in our midst?

Year after year, we conspire with that Spirit,
in beauty and brokenness,
sorrow and celebration,
singing our very hearts out:
to You, our help in ages past,
and hope beyond hope for years to come.
For You, we listen and learn and long
in protest, prayer, and praise . . .
an ever-expanding circle of friends,
our verandas, wide open to the world.

Mary Louise Bringle, © 2022