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Kindling: Small Reflections on a Limitless Faith

An ecstatic and introspective cantata embracing six sources of religion for our own time
Elizabeth Alexander
Commissioned by First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston

This ecstatic and introspective work embraces six ancient and modern sources of religion, from our own personal experience to widely-practiced faiths. Encompassing both the intimate and universal, Kindling unabashedly revels in the wisdom, mystery, challenge and joy offered by each of these rich veins of understanding.

The structure of Kindling was suggested by the Six Sources of Religion as recognized by Unitarian Universalism, the religious tradition of composer and lyricist Elizabeth Alexander. From "the wisdom of the world's religions" to "words and deeds of prophetic women and men," these sources comprise our modern-day understanding of faith, ever deepening with each new generation. In the final movement, these profound and diverse sources commingle in each individual's spiritual core, becoming kindling for "the chalice of our hearts."

Movements II, III, IV, V, and VII may be performed as stand-alone pieces:
I. First Touch
II. Pages
III. Chosen People
IV. So Much Radiance
V. Strong Braid
VI. Where Belief Begins
VII. The Chalice of Our Hearts

* Note: The Choral Score is designed to be used with chamber ensemble performances as well as those accompanied only by piano. For all chamber ensemble performances, the conductor should use the Conductor's Score of the complete work (SEA-123-00).

Item Instrumentation/Voicing Duration Level Audio Peruse Delivery Method (Print vs. Digital) Price Quantity
SEA-123-00 SATB, flute, horn, piano, string quartet - Conductor's Score - Complete multi-movement work
Oversized 11"x14" score, coil-bound with cardstock cover
25' MA Sheet Music $30.00
SEA-123-00DEL SATB, flute, horn, piano, string quartet - Conductor's Score - Complete multi-movement work
Oversized 11"x14" licensed PDF
25' MA Licensed PDF $30.00
SEA-123-08 SATB, flute, horn, piano, string quartet - Instrumental Parts (rental)
25' MA Licensed PDF $0.00
SEA-123-09 SATB, piano - Choral Score - Complete multi-movement Work
Use with chamber ensemble OR piano accompaniment. Coil-bound with cardstock cover
25' MA Sheet Music $12.00
SEA-123-09DEL SATB, piano - Choral Score - Complete multi-movement Work
Use with chamber ensemble OR with piano accompaniment. Licensed PDF, 68 pages long, suitable for coil-binding or for use in a 3-ring binder.
25' MA Licensed PDF $12.00

Kindling: Small Reflections on a Limitless Faith

Elizabeth Alexander

I. First Touch

The first touch brings astonishment, then delight:
Water, kitten belly, hydrangea blossom, warm mud.
New ears learn to decipher footsteps and music.
While watching a fuzzy caterpillar, small hearts lean towards God.

II. Pages

On the pages of the morning paper,
People rebuild shattered schools and restore lifeless lakes,
Knit reconciliation out of promise and pain,
And sing to the deathly ill and the newly born.

Constitutions are still being written,
And slaves freed, and truces forged.
We finish our breakfasts and roll up our own sleeves.

III. Chosen People

As children we are enchanted by the apple, the ark, the whale,
The boy with the slingshot, the baby in the barn.
Later we grapple with forgiveness, resurrection and compassion.
Chosen people are everywhere now – in the market, under the bridge.
The next chapters are ours to imagine.

IV. So Much Radiance

Once we set forth in the dark empty hours of the night,
In search of a Presence wondrous and unseen,
Guided only by a voice still and small.

Our outstretched hands soon encountered
The brass and grain of Cross and Menorah,
And our fingers traced their contours with reverence and joy.

Only now, as the rising sun illuminates
Wheel and Lotus, Yin and Yang, Star and Crescent, Eagle and Drum,
We begin to behold the Limitless:
So much Radiance within our reach – even more beyond.

V. Strong Braid

Aloft in the heady air of faith,
Our senses heightened by incense and ether,
We may from time to time become ecstatic paper kites.

We dive and keel and rocket,
Riding each wayward gust with abandon,
Recklessly aspiring to Auroral heights —

Yet knowing all the while that we are safe,
Tethered to the ground by a strong braid, a steady hand,
And a mind that appraises the wind.

VI. Where Belief Begins

It comes down to this, in the end.
And in the beginning and middle as well:

Earth, generous and visceral,
Manifested in mountains and hidden within clouds,
Familiar to rhizomes and young knees.

Air and Water, faithful channels of change,
Whose currents and cycles nudge germination
All the way through to rot and back again.

What’s more, there’s Fire, dazzling and improbable,
Not only in the cores of planets and stars
But also in the hollow where belief begins.

Epilogue: The Chalice of Our Hearts

Our search for kindling takes us far beyond our selves –
There we gather Truth and Mystery.
We return in joy to tend the chalice of our hearts.

Composer's Note: 

Some commissions call me to grow spiritually, forcing me to grapple with questions I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen for myself. Kindling was definitely one of those commissions. Although I had set no fewer than 14 liberal religious texts to music – from Transylvania’s 16th century “Edict of Torda” to Emerson’s “Oversoul” – I had never thought of Unitarian Universalism’s Six Sources as terrifically inspiring. But when conductor Jason Oby handed me the ambitious goal of composing a cantata based on these universal sources of inspiration and guidance, I knew I couldn’t say no. How compelling! intimidating. Unitarian Universalists don’t celebrate their faith with the ecstatic abandon of Sufis, or the rich mysticism of the Eastern Orthodox. They lean more towards rational thought – but geez, I didn’t want to compose a treatise, or a dissertation, or a polemic. (What is a polemic, anyway?)

During long walks with my husband I waved my arms dramatically, lamenting: “The Six Sources? Who are they kidding? A song about humanism? Good grief, I might as well set the IRS tax code to music.” But over time, as I asked myself what the essential nature of each source was, a rhapsodic kernel within each one gradually emerged – yes, even within humanism.

Thus, Kindling is not a manifesto, no grand statement containing ultimate truths and universal revelations. It is a collection of small reflections on how experience, heritage and inspiration can cultivate a faith of integrity, service and joy.

By the way, I found out what a polemic was, because I just looked it up. It is an argument that completely refutes other points of view. As it turns out, that’s exactly what Kindling is not. But I guess that shouldn’t really be a surprise, since that’s also exactly what Unitarian Universalism is not.


SATB, flute, horn, string quartet
Premiere: First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston / Jason Oby (Houston, TX)
Choir of Arlington Street Church / Mark Buckles (Boston, MA)
Choir of Mount Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church / Mark Tuning (Walnut Creek, CA)
Choir of Unitarian Universalist Church of Atlanta / Donald Milton III (Atlanta, GA)
St Luke Presbyterian Church / David Lohman (St. Louis Park, MN)

SATB, piano
Choir of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Rochester, MN / Joseph Mish

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