Thanks for stopping by, whether you got here by a link or hitting "next blog" -- I am glad you are here. I've also done some writing on homeschooling, and what I learned thinking I was teaching.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Christmas Carols – Serendipitous Tonics

Hooray – It is wafting again on radio stations and through stores – familiar strains that evoke memories of words fewer people seem to know. The old carols are as old friends who link my heart to six decades or so of Christmases.  Just hearing them cheers me up! And new compositions are equally edifying. John Rutter has written and arranged some holiday music that lets me imagine how carols may have sounded in the olden days – echoing in stone castles or cathedrals – or an English countryside in which I’ve never celebrated the Lord’s birth.

Tonight on our local classical music station (WRR) I heard What Sweeter Music’s evocative lilt and lyrics – I wanted to know more. When I investigated, I learned the John Rutter composed the carol using the poetry written in the 17th century by Robert Herrick, some of whose work I barely skimmed in a survey of English literature.   What I learned about him was limited to his sensual poems.  He was the cleric and poet who urged, “ . . . gather ye rosebuds while ye may . . . “.

How much I missed! So busy was I keeping themes, dates, titles, and authors straight -- I never appreciated  the urgency of this man’s worship. I never made the connection between the terrors of the English Civil War which affected Herrick’s calling – as a cleric or a poet.  He was a man who lived through times as perilous as my own, never losing sight of God’s great gift in Christ.
What Sweeter Music

What sweeter music can we bring

Than a carol, for to sing

The birth of this our heavenly King? 

Awake the voice! Awake the string!

Dark and dull night, fly hence away,

And give the honor to this day,

That sees December turned to May.

Why does the chilling winter’s morn

Smile, like a field beset with corn?

Or smell like a meadow newly-shorn,

Thus, on the sudden? Come and see

The cause, why things thus fragrant be:

‘Tis He is born, whose quickening birth

Gives life and luster, public mirth,

To heaven, and the under-earth.

We see him come, and know him ours,

Who, with his sunshine and his showers,

Turns all the patient ground to flowers.

The darling of the world is come,

And fit it is, we find a room

To welcome him. The nobler part

Of all the house here, is the heart.

Which we will give him; and bequeath

This holly, and this ivy wreath,

To do him honour, who’s our King,

And Lord of all this revelling.
What sweeter music can we bring,

Than a carol for to sing

The birth of this our heavenly King?

Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

Thanks to WRR that played John Rutter’s carol, and the Internet that gave me the information omitted from the survey course. I am finding that You Tube is a better text for a recovering English major than the The Norton Anthology of English Literature! God’s serendipitous mercy is that faith- enriching words and music from ancient and modern carols remain an acceptable tradition. Searching out information on their author’s and composers – reading their words – exercised my heart, mind and refreshed my soul, a soul sometimes falling into gloom in this glittery season.   

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Holiday Lights

The advent of the twinkling lights wrapping round trees and houses and shops intensify the exhilaration the coming holidays promise. First one house and then the next – and then the shopping centers exploding with millions of lights combine with carols and familiar refrains  -- echo a message: this is no ordinary happening, no commonplace celebration.  The “holiday lights” in Dallas are a breath-taking spectacle and seem to say something wonderful is coming. But we must be discrete about defining what the wonderful is, lest we give offense. 

Growing up in Baltimore in the early 1950’s the downtown department store windows were wonderful – thrilling displays of toys, the North Pole and sugar plum fairies -- just like the one around which the children crowded in the opening scene of The Bishop’s Wife, (a movie I never saw until 1985 with our son, who was battling strep throat.) The windows, the lights, the stories built together a feeling that in the hush between December 24th and December 25th I would receive a wonderful gift. The Christmas holidays have always been a time of hope; from my childish hopes for this doll or that to hopes we would just stay healthy over the celebrations.  Some of my childhood dreams – for peace in our family – were answered decades later when I grasped that Christmas was not simply about the world’s celebrations. 

Being raised in a liturgical church, I knew what Christmas meant – the birth of Christ, also called Jesus.   I just never made the connection between what His name meant and my needs.  Understanding that  connection is the source of continuing discoveries about people I love and myself. But our culture looks for ways to obfuscate the meaning, lest it offend and ruin the holidays – itself a shortening of “holy days.”

Scripture commands no memorial of Christ’s birth; we don’t know when He was born for certain – although Christ’s birth – God’s personal intersection with man as man – has influenced religion, art, music, literature and philosophy for two millennia, three or four if you count the time awaiting His arrival.  For all the good His followers have done, we’ve much for which we owe Him an account. (Revelation 2-3) Therefore, that many outside the church don’t want to be lumped under a celebration of His birth, I get.  That many of us inside the church don’t want to be maxed out in the world’s celebrations, I also get.

Before the wave of wonderment crashes over us – and we totally lose sight of the fact that in the fullness of time God kept His word, and brought forth His Son, born of a woman, I hope you see His light in all the lights of the season.  I could wish you all kinds of things for this season – joy and peace to last a lifetime  -- but I wish both you and me what Scott Wesley Brown sang about so many years ago: I wish you Jesus.  And I pray you enjoy afresh  the hope He gives that does not disappoint.