When I go out and feel nature’s wonders
Wind, water, sun, the earth, the moon, the stars
I feel such joy, love and appreciation
I thank my God, the Force of Truth You are.
Chorus: Then sings my soul, the best I know within
How great thou art, how great thou art
Then sings my soul, the best I know within
How great thou art, how great thou art.
And yet I know the world is full of suffering
From greed and hate which often have their way
Children dying, oppression much too normal,
The environment itself in danger of decay
But still sings my soul, the best I know within
For I have seen the power of the people
When standing strong, united what’er may come
For justice always will overcome false evil,
No power can stop an idea whose time has come
So sings my soul, the best I know within
There’ll come a day I’ll pass to something different
No longer feel the power of wind and sun
But I’m at peace, I know we will not falter
That Truth and Love endure ‘til The Work is done
So sings my soul, the best I know within
-new lyrics by Ted Glick
Without question my favorite hymn is How Great Thou Art. In part it’s the beautiful melody, and in part it’s the verses which extol the wonder and power of nature, which celebrates the very real sense of connection, a Greater Presence, many of us feel when we spend time in the forests, mountains, beaches, other natural settings or even an urban park.
The many years I have been an activist and organizer for progressive social change have taught me how essential it is that all of us, all human beings, have opportunities for this nature connection. Without it, our lives are less whole, at the least. We are out of balance, more likely to engage in disrespectful or socially negative actions.
I was reminded of this fundamental truth and inspired to write a new set of verses to How Great Thou Art while on vacation last week in Vieques, Puerto Rico. Vieques is a small island where, in 2003, after 60 years of U.S. Navy occupation and practice bombing of 2/3 of Vieques land, the Bush Administration was forced to announce that the Navy would withdraw in 2005, which they did. Thousands of Viequenses and other Puerto Ricans, as well as other supporters, engaged in an intense final campaign of civil disobedience from 1999 to 2003 to achieve this victory.
There is a basic similarity between human interaction with nature and the feelings that come when part of a unified, popular campaign for positive change. Both generate transcendence, allow us to see beyond the often-mundane, sometimes alienating, sometimes oppressive realities of day to day life. Both allow us to have “mountaintop” experiences, a sense of what life can be like if human society evolves rapidly enough to forestall climate catastrophe and emerge on the other side with much more just, peaceful and ecologically sound ways of organizing itself.
But it is more than this. History shows that there is no guarantee that mass social movements which are justice-oriented will always be so. Leaders can lose touch with the best within themselves, become corrupted or autocratic, as the daily demands of leadership weigh them down, or they give in to cooptation efforts by the powers-that-be.
These dangers can be prepared for in a number of ways: fully democratic, transparent and participatory mechanisms of decision-making; a culture of resistance which is consciously supportive, loving and empowering for all part of it; and anti-oppression education which encourages leadership from women, people of color, youth, lgbt people and others historically disrespected by the dominant culture.
Also essential is taking time to renew the nature connection, to appreciate the wind, waters, sun, earth, moon and stars which are part of who we are. For myself, after years of experiences, I know when I am making that connection. Spontaneously, without a conscious thought, I begin to hum or sing How Great Thou Art. Now, thanks to a power much greater than myself, I have words to sing to go with the beautiful melody which express some of what I have learned over the course of my 62 years.