The Music of Elizabeth Alexander

The Gospel Isn’t Written In the Bible Alone

An expansive embrace of the sacredness of all creation

Music: Elizabeth Alexander

Words: Elizabeth Alexander

An expansive embrace of the sacredness of all creation, inspired by this anonymous quote: “God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees, and flowers, and clouds, and stars.” This sweet and soulful song welcomes some rhythmic and melodic improvisation, and some heartfelt vocal nuance.

Vocal Ranges: Low: a-b’/d” / High: e’-f”

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Composer Notes

Composer Notes

“God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees, and flowers, and clouds, and stars.”

These words were attributed to Martin Luther as early as the 1950s when it was published in an anthology of religious quotations. In the years that followed, it became a much beloved and reprinted quote, appearing on countless posters, T-shirts, mugs, greeting cards, and (eventually) memes. I too liked it, and even wrote a song based on its core idea!

Curious to know the context of these words, I sought out Bruce Eldevik, reference librarian at Luther College. To my surprise he concluded they were not Martin Luther’s words at all! As it turns out, Luther was far less interested in where the gospel was located than in for whom it was written, as reflected in this passage from his book Table Talk: “The gospel belongs to the poor and sorrowful, not to princes and courtiers who live in continual joy and delight, in security, void of all tribulations.”

And so it goes. To the true author, whoever you are: Thanks. You gave me a great hook for this generous song.

Text

The Gospel Isn’t Written in the Bible Alone

“God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees, and flowers, and clouds, and stars.” Anonymous, often erroneously attributed to Martin Luther

The Gospel is written on the trees and flowers, it’s written on the wind and the rain,
Recorded on the rock and sediment and sand.
It’s written on the glory of the far-off sun, and also on the very near,
Inscribed upon the palm of every open hand.
You can hear it in the thunder, you can read it in the stars,
You can find it under every leaf and stone.
On a page wide as a prairie there’s a message large as life:
The Gospel isn’t written in the Bible alone.

The Gospel is painted onto fins and scales, it’s ruffled into feathers and fur,
It’s spun into the seashell’s deep and sacred scroll.
Behold it in the voices of the birds at dawn, composers of the Song of Songs,
Discern it in the Acts of every living soul.
Every pebble holds a Proverb, every spider spins a Psalm,
Every seed’s a Resurrection of its own.
On a page wide as a prairie there’s a message large as life:
The Gospel isn’t written in the Bible alone.

Imagine now, if you were God
Setting forth a Gospel for all you’re worth,
Why would you settle for a single book
When you could write the Gospel on the whole wide Earth?

The Gospel is moving over darkened seas, it’s working in the change and the flow,
It’s written in a tongue we long to understand.
We marvel at the beauty of the poetry encoded in the chromosome,
And braided through the length of every twisted strand.
It is molded into muscle, it is whispered into breath,
It is carved into the curve of every bone.
On a page wide as a prairie there’s a message large as life:
The Gospel may be written in the Bible —
But it surely isn’t written in the Bible alone.

Elizabeth Alexander
© 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander

Performers

Performers

Premiere: Libby Turner and Elizabeth Alexander. Studio Z. (St. Paul, MN)
Amanda Thomas and Carolyn Brady Riley. First Unitarian Church of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
Amanda Thomas and Jeff Hamrick. Countryside Church Unitarian Universalist (Palatine, IL)
Beena David. First Unitarian Church of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
Choir of First Parish in Concord / Beth Norton. First Parish in Concord (Concord, MA)
George Fletcher. Unitarian Universalist Church of Huntsville (Huntsville, AL)
Henry Sgrecci. Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church (Bethesda, MD)
Jenna Hesseln and Patti Mangis. Barrington United Methodist Church (Barrington, IL)
Kris-Anne Weiss and Ruth Palmer. Unity Church-Unitarian (St. Paul, MN)
Libby Turner and Elizabeth Alexander. Eden Prairie United Methodist Church (Eden Prairie, MN)
Marti Mendenhall and Elizabeth Alexander. UUMN National Conference (Madison, WI)
Michael Scionti and Elizabeth Alexander. St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church (Tucson, AZ)
Rebecca Kenneally and Dara VanRemoortel. Old North Church (Marblehead, MA)
Sarah Ponder Brock. First Unitarian Church of Chicago (Chicago, IL)