ode to incense


Ode to Incense

As odd as it sounds, this song is exactly what its title implies. It is a song written to incense. The first verse focuses on its burning ember, the second on its vapory trail, and the bridge praises the way it, unlike other elements in a worship service, interacts with our bodily senses rather than our logical minds alone.

So, why would I write an ode to incense?

To be incredibly honest, as both a minister and a songwriter, I often feel…well…quite useless. It could be a sermon I pour myself into that comes and thanklessly goes or a difficult situation I attempt to help others navigate that forever lacks resolution or a song I am excited about that seems to float into the ether without notice. In both arenas–art and ministry–it can often feel as though my hours, my energy, my very life is consumed and, at the end of the day, for what? Does it matter? Does anyone care? Is it worth it? What’s the point?

I know questions like these are not reserved for ministers and artists alone. Those two roles just happen to be ones I am familiar with.

At a time in which I was struggling with this sort of self-doubt, I stumbled upon an incredibly specific and rather obscure prayer: the blessing of incense. While placing a small piece of incense inside a thurible and on top of burning coals, the priest blesses the incense with these words, “Ab illo benedicaris in cuius honore cremaberis.” In English: “Be blessed by Him in whose honor you burn.” The thurible is then closed and the incense slowly consumed. The product of its burning blesses those around it in ways I am sure the incense would doubt, if incense were capable of such a thing. The product of its burning blesses others, but blessing for the incense is in the burning itself, the giving away of its very existence for the sake of One worthy of such a gift.

When I learned of this prayer, I began to pray it for myself. In fact, it has become something of a lifeline for me. When doubting the importance of whatever it is I am working on, I pray, “Be blessed in whose honor you burn, Bill.” The blessing isn’t in the product as much as it is in the process, the blessing of burning in the ways I was designed to burn and for the sake of One worthy of my hours, my energy, and my life.

So, yes, this song is an ode to incense. But even more so it is an ode to the insignificant, an ode to myself, an ode to anyone who wrongly suspects that what they do or who they are has no real effect. The blessing for incense is in the burning. And it burns in service of One who is known for multiplying meager gifts in ways the one giving could never have guessed and may never know. So too it is in ministry and in art and in life. There is great blessing to be found in the burning. And who knows? Maybe our small gifts, in the last analysis of things, will have mattered after all.



Ode to the ember so bright
like a star hanging far
in the sky
Small though you seem
in the night even kings
seek your light
to help guide the way home

Oh, be blessed
in whose honor you burn

Ode to the vapory trail
as you swirl and you twirl
through the air
Soon fade with no trace
‘cept the prayers that you take
and lay bare
at the altar of grace

Oh, be blessed
in whose honor you burn

You bring beauty, you bring joy
to our world of senses
You awaken and you break in
past our defenses

Ode to the artist and priest
From your hand, the grand
thurible swings
The life of incense
provides more than a scent
And your gift
it gives more than you think

Oh, be blessed
in whose honor you burn



Words & Music: Bill Wolf
Produced: Thomas Smith
Violins: Thomas Smith