Home History of Hymns: "She Comes Sailing on the Wind"

History of Hymns: "She Comes Sailing on the Wind"

"She Comes Sailing on the Wind"
Gordon Light
The Faith We Sing, No. 2122

Gordon Light

“She Comes Sailing on the Wind”
Gordon Light
The Faith We Sing, No. 2122.

“She comes sailing on the wind,
her wings flashing in the sun;
on a journey just begun, she flies on.
And in the passage of her flight,
her song rings throughout the night,
full of laughter, full of light, she flies on.”

In introducing Gordon Light, his musical colleague from the Common Cup Company, Ian Macdonald says: “Alberta-born and Ontario-raised, Gordon began playing guitar and singing in folk groups when he was in high school.”

The Common Cup Company is a folk-singing group founded by four Canadian ministers. After a visit to the Common Cup Web site, www.commoncup.com, you will see that while they take the church seriously enough to compose new music and perform, they do not take themselves very seriously at all.

Bishop Light says he places his compositions within the context of his broader ministry. “My first vocation is as priest and now bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada,” he says, “so I haven’t written great numbers of songs.”

Bishop Light speaks of how he started to compose songs: “Lots of hymns say what I believe. I love the music of the Church. But many of the hymns weren’t saying everything that I believed. And they weren’t saying things that were way down inside me. They were somebody else’s words and somebody else’s thoughts. In writing, things that were important for me came out.”

“She Comes Sailing on the Wind” was written in the early days of Common Cup and is perhaps the most famous of Bishop Light’s songs worldwide. Dr. Uhrich captures the essence of the song: “The Spirit of God is in flight too—and the rustle of her passing wings may turn our human fleeing into flying!”

The song blazed new theological territory for the composer: Bishop Light says this song “was conceived as a sort of ‘history of work the Spirit’—from the work as Life Giver of creation to the work of inspiring prophetic [ministry] to Her presence in the moments of the birth and baptism of Jesus to Pentecost to now (‘down the ages still she flies on.’).”

The composer continues: “To write and sing ‘She Flies On!’ pushed me to say it was OK to use feminine imagery for God. After that, I didn’t feel uncomfortable . . . It’s allowed me to go further in my own faith that I’ve gone before.”

Feminine imagery appears throughout the song. Drawing on biblical passages from Genesis through the Gospels, stanza one uses the simile of “a mother breathing life into her child” to describe the movement of the Spirit upon the earth at creation.

The Spirit was with Mary as she “sang the Spirit song within her heart” in stanza three. In stanza four “She swept down from the sky” during the baptism of Jesus. In stanza five, the Spirit continues to fly on with “her wings unfurled.”

“She Flies On” first appeared in Songs for a Gospel People (1987), the supplement to The Hymn Book (1971), a joint hymnal for the United Church of Canada and the Anglican Church. According to Mr. Macdonald, the song’s success was quite a surprise to the group: “We did a [first] concert in 1987 in Kamloops. And that wound up getting ‘She Flies On!’ into the green book [Songs for a Gospel People], and that really surprised us. Gord had already given up on the song. We did it that once, and that was the time Ralph Milton [publisher for Songs for a Gospel People] was in the audience. He came running up on stage to get it. He grabbed the sheet right off Gordon’s stand.”

Since that time, “She Flies On” has been sung around the world in many languages.

*© 1985 Common Cup Co. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology.