Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Alternate Activity 2: Song - Life Is the Greatest Gift of All

Activity time: 15 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Singing the Living Tradition, the Unitarian Universalist hymnbook
  • Newsprint, markers, and tape
  • Optional: A recording of "Life Is the Greatest Gift of All" and a music player

Preparation for Activity

  • Obtain enough copies of Singing the Living Tradition for all participants.
  • Post two sheets of newsprint side by side, with no space between. Title the left-hand sheet "Religious" and the right-hand sheet "Humanist."
  • Optional: Plan to teach and lead Hymn 331 in Singing the Living Tradition, "Life Is the Greatest Gift of All." You might invite a music leader or accompanist in the congregation to help.
  • Optional: Obtain a recording of Hymn 331 in Singing the Living Tradition, "Life Is the Greatest Gift of All" and set up a music player to share the song with the group.

Description of Activity

This activity uses music to reinforce participants' understanding of Humanist beliefs, Unitarian Universalist beliefs, and their commonalities. It highlights a religious expression of Humanism-the use of ritual, in this case song.

Remind the group that Religious Humanism and Unitarian Universalism overlap in their beliefs and values; many UUs also identify as Humanist, and many UU beliefs, traditions, and ways of living our faith are grounded in humanist philosophy. Say, "Let's see what we can learn about UU/Humanist connections from one of our UU hymns."

Distribute copies of Singing the Living Tradition and invite the youth to find Hymn 331. Ask the group to pay attention to the lyrics as you read them aloud (or, as you play the recorded song). Then, if you or a volunteer are prepared to do so, teach and lead the song.

Indicate the newsprint and invite the youth to call out phrases or ideas from "Life Is the Greatest Gift of All" that seem religious to them. Ask them to explain what is religious about each example. Once you have a few responses, ask them to turn to the term "humanist" and call out phrases or ideas they think are humanist and to say why. Before writing a new suggestion, challenge the youth to decide if it actually belongs on both sheets. If any youth say it does, write it in the middle.

It is not necessary to reach consensus on where to write every suggestion. Rather, focus on exploring the beliefs and ideas embedded in the song and how and why these are religious and/or humanist ideas. Use these prompts as needed:

  • "Mind...seeks creation's hidden plan" could mean we are constantly looking for more truth about the natural world and how it works. Or, it could mean someone or something (God?) has made an actual plan.
  • The second verse describes the amazing things the human mind can do. Does it suggest we are capable of solving all the mysteries of the universe, and controlling the natural world, as well? (" reins the wind, it chains the storm, it weighs the outmost stars.")
  • "Life...the measure of all things" suggests there is no supernatural life-after-death; it suggests, too, that what really counts is what we do in our lifetimes.
  • When it talks about "life and its creatures great and small" as the greatest gift and then says (third verse) "We are of life," is the song lifting up our responsibility to an interdependent web of life? Or is it saying something else?
  • What does the phrase "our vision soars on wings" mean for a UU? What could it mean for a Humanist?

Invite the youth to discuss:

  • God is not in this hymn. Does God need to be involved for a sentiment or experience to be religious? Why? Why not?
  • If not God, to whom or what we are grateful for the gift of life? Can we have gratitude without someone/something to thank? Is gratitude in and of itself a religious feeling? How?