The Light Turned On

On Epiphany day,
     we are still the people walking.
     We are still people in the dark,
          and the darkness looms large around us,
          beset as we are by fear,
                                        anxiety,
                                        brutality,
                                        violence,
                                        loss —
          a dozen alienations that we cannot manage.

We are — we could be — people of your light.
     So we pray for the light of your glorious presence
          as we wait for your appearing;
     we pray for the light of your wondrous grace
          as we exhaust our coping capacity;
     we pray for your gift of newness that
          will override our weariness;
     we pray that we may see and know and hear and trust
          in your good rule.

That we may have energy, courage, and freedom to enact
         your rule through the demands of this day.
         We submit our day to you and to your rule, with deep joy and high hope.
~Walter Brueggemann from  Prayers for a Privileged People 

photo by Nate Gibson

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
~T.S. Eliot from “Journey of the Magi”

…the scent of frankincense
and myrrh
arrives on the wind,
and I long
to breathe deeply,
to divine its trail.
But I know their uses
and cannot bring myself
to breathe deeply enough
to know
whether what comes
is the fragrant welcoming
of birth
or simply covers the stench of death.
These hands
coming toward me,
is it swaddling they carry
or shroud?
~Jan Richardson from Night Visions –searching the shadows of Advent and

The Christmas season is a wrap, put away for another year.
However, our hearts are not so easily boxed up and stored as the decorations and ornaments of the season.

Our troubles and concerns go on; our frailty and failures a daily reality.
We can be distracted with holidays for a few weeks, but our time here slips away ever more quickly.

The Christmas story is not just about light and birth and joy to the world.
It is about how swaddling clothes became a shroud that wrapped Him tight,
yet He broke free to liberate us.
There is no swaddling without the shroud.

God came to be with us;
Delivered so He could deliver.
Planted on and in the earth.
Born so He could die in our place
To leave the linen strips behind, neatly folded.

Christmas: the swaddled unwrapped, freeing us forever from the shroud.
Epiphany: His Light illuminates the Seed taking root in our hearts.

The Light is turned on, as if a switch has been flipped.

Translation:
Light, warm and heavy as pure gold and angels sing softly to the new-born babe.

Through love to light!
Oh, wonderful the way
That leads from darkness to the perfect day!
From darkness and from sorrow of the night
To morning that comes singing o’er the sea.
Through love to light!
Through light, O God, to thee,
Who art the love of love, the eternal light of light!
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Good with Lambs

After the very bright light,
And the talking bird,
And the singing,
And the sky filled up wi’ wings,
And then the silence,


Our lads sez
We’d better go, then. Stay, Shep. Good dog, stay.

So I stayed wi’ t’ sheep.

After they’d cum back
It sounded grand, what they’d seen.
Camels and kings, and such,
Wi’ presents – human sort,
Not the kind you eat –
And a baby. Presents wes for him
Our lads took him a lamb.


I had to stay behind wi’ t’ sheep.
Pity they didn’t tek me along too.
I’m good wi’ lambs,
And the baby might have liked a dog
After all that myrrh and such.

~U.A. Fanthorpe “The Sheepdog”

Some of us feel left out of important happenings. Left at home because duty calls, or too old or ill to make the trip, or it’s just too much trouble and cost to go. We make the best of staying home with our responsibilities because that is what we are meant to do.

Yet even the most humble and lowly have something they can bring to celebrate this birth; our gift doesn’t have to be ornate and exotic or cost a fortune.

It can simply be our presence. Simply showing up. And in the case of a lowly hard-working sheepdog, it is a joyful and curious face, a tail wag, a desire to protect, and a capacity for unconditional love and care for all of God’s creation.

No doubt the baby would have liked such a dog, especially one that knows the value of this particular Lamb.

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Hearing the Forsaken Cry

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

~W.H. Auden “Musée des Beaux Arts”

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, c.1555 (oil on canvas) by Bruegel, Pieter the Elder (c.1525-69); Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium;

“Census in Bethlehem” by Pieter Bruegel -Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium;
“Massacre of the Innocents” by Pieter Bruegel

…as you sit beneath your beautifully decorated tree, eat the rich food of celebration, and laugh with your loved ones, you must not let yourself forget the horror and violence at the beginning and end of the Christmas story. The story begins with the horrible slaughter of children and ends with the violent murder of the Son of God. The slaughter depicts how much the earth needs grace. The murder is the moment when that grace is given.

Look into that manger representing a new life and see the One who came to die. Hear the angels’ celebratory song and remember that sad death would be the only way that peace would be given. Look at your tree and remember another tree – one not decorated with shining ornaments, but stained with the blood of God.

As you celebrate, remember that the pathway to your celebration was the death of the One you celebrate, and be thankful.
~Paul Tripp

God weeps
when tragedy and suffering happens.

Such evil comes not from God
yet humankind expects it,
walking dully past, barely noticing.
It is simply part of existence –
easier to not stop and feel the pain
or get involved.

But God does not walk past our hurt and trouble,
does not ignore, nor pretend to not see or hear our cries.

Only God glues together
what evil has shattered.
Only God could become the Man
who loves us enough to take our suffering
upon His own shoulders
— becoming forsaken
so that we are not.

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Driving at Night

I want to be a passenger
in your car again
and shut my eyes
while you sit at the wheel,


awake and assured
in your own private world,
seeing all the lines
on the road ahead,


down a long stretch
of empty highway
without any other
faces in sight.

I want to be a passenger
in your car again
and put my life back
in your hands.
~Michael Miller “December”

Up north, the dashboard lights of the family car
gleam in memory, the radio
plays to itself as I drive
my father plied the highways
while my mother talked, she tried to hide
that low lilt, that Finnish brogue,
in the back seat, my sisters and I
our eyes always tied to the Big Dipper
I watch it still
on summer evenings, as the fireflies stream
above the ditches and moths smack
into the windshield and the wildlife’s
red eyes bore out from the dark forests
we flew by, then scattered like the last bit of star
light years before.
It’s like a different country, the past
we made wishes on unnamed falling stars
that I’ve forgotten, that maybe were granted
because I wished for love.

~Sheila Packa “Driving At Night” from The Mother Tongue

The moon was like a full cup tonight,
too heavy, and sank in the mist
soon after dark, leaving for light

faint stars and the silver leaves
of milkweed beside the road,
gleaming before my car.

Yet I like driving at night
the brown road through the mist

of mountain-dark, among farms
so quiet
, and the roadside willows
opening out where I saw

the cows. Always a shock
to remember them there, those
great breathings close in the dark.

~Hayden Carruth from “The Cows at Night”

Some of my most comfortable childhood memories come from the long ride home in the car at night from holiday gatherings. My father always drove, my mother humming “I See the Moon” in the front passenger seat, and we three kids sat in the back seat, drowsy and full of feasting. The night world hypnotically passed by outside the car window. I wondered whether the rest of the world was as safe and content as I felt at that moment.

On clear nights, the moon followed us down the highway, shining a light on the road.

Now as a driver at night, transporting grandchildren from a family gathering, I want them to feel the same peaceful contentment that I did as a child. As an older driver, I don’t enjoy driving at night, especially dark rural roads in pouring rain. I understand the enormous responsibility I bear, transporting those whom I dearly love and want to keep safe.

In truth, I long to be a passenger again, with no worries or pressures – just along for the ride, watching the moon and the world drift by, knowing I’m well-cared for.

Despite my fretting about the immense burden I feel to make things right in a troubled world, I do realize:
I am a passenger on a planet that has a driver Who feels great responsibility and care for all He transports through the black night of the universe. He loves me and I can rest content in the knowledge that I am safe in His vigilant hands. I am not the driver – He knows how to safely bring me` home.

I see the moon, it’s shining from far away, Beckoning with ev‘ry beam.
And though all the start above cast down their light, Still the moon is all that I see
And it’s calling out, “Come run a way!
And we’ll sail with the clouds for our sea,
And we’ll travel on through the black of the night, ‘til we float back home on a dream!”
The moon approaches my window pane, stretching itself to the ground.
The moon sings softly and laughs and smiles, and yet never makes a sound!
I see the moon! I see the moon!
Part A
And it’s calling out, “Come run a way!
And we’ll sail with the clouds for our sea,
And we’ll travel on through the black of the night, ‘til we float back home on a dream!”
Part B
I see the moon, it’s shining from far away, Beckoning with ev‘ry beam.
And though all the stars above cast down their light, Still the moon is all that I see
~Douglas Beam

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Here We All Are…

There’s nothing romantic about the Christmas story. If anything, it offers a slice of a brutal world in which a child is born on the street, so to speak, with next to nothing in the way of rights and security, and not even a home.

He whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas said, even as a grown man, “I have nothing. I am nowhere at home. Even at night, I have no place to rest or lay my head”.…But now this man from Nazareth comes to us and invites us to mirror God’s image, and shows us how. He says: you too can become light, as God is light. Because what is all around you is not hell, but rather a world waiting to be filled with hope and faith.
~Jörg Zink, from Türen zum Fest.

The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are…

~W.H.Auden from “For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio”

As we drove down the freeway through Seattle yesterday for a Christmas gathering of far-flung family members, I couldn’t help but flinch seeing the stark reality of ramshackle shelters and tents perched in the most precarious places along the roadside. This has been a week of freezing rain and ice, wind and snow for most of our country; here are people trying to survive in the lowliest of places through the worst of conditions. Surely, if this is not hell on earth, it is close to it. A merry Christmas indeed.

Suffering is never far off from where we are, whether we are confronted with homelessness, or it finds its way into our own lives, unbidden and overwhelming. In few weeks we begin the observance of Lent to remember the sacrifice and suffering of the Man born as a homeless baby into loving arms, having come from Loving Arms to rescue the lost.

So recently filled with Christmas feasting and cheer, I’m reminded of the struggle to find home, warmth, love and nurture in a world that can be so cruel, dark and cold.

The Babe has come to quake the gates of hell – here we all are, feeling the ground shaking…


This little Babe so few days old 
is come to rifle Satan's fold;
all hell doth at his presence quake 
though he himself for cold do shake;
for in this weak unarmèd wise 
the gates of hell he will surprise.

With tears he fights and wins the field, 
his naked breast stands for a shield;
his battering shot are babish cries, 
his arrows looks of weeping eyes,
his martial ensigns Cold and Need 
and feeble Flesh his warrior's steed.

His camp is pitchèd in a stall, 
his bulwark but a broken wall;
the crib his trench, haystacks his stakes; 
of shepherds he his muster makes;
and thus, as sure his foe to wound,
the angels' trump alarum sound.

My soul, with Christ join thou in fight, 
stick to the tents that he hath pight.
Within his crib is surest ward, 
this little Babe will be thy guard.
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy, 
then flit not from this heavenly Boy.

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A Fading Fire

Some candle clear burns somewhere I come by.
I muse at how its being puts blissful back
With yellowy moisture mild night’s blear-all black,
Or to-fro tender trambeams truckle at the eye.
By that window what task what fingers ply,
I plod wondering, a-wanting, just for lack
Of answer the eagerer a-wanting Jessy or Jack
There God to aggrándise, God to glorify.—

Come you indoors, come home; your fading fire
Mend first and vital candle in close heart’s vault:
You there are master, do your own desire;
What hinders? Are you beam-blind, yet to a fault
In a neighbour deft-handed? Are you that liar
And, cast by conscience out, spendsavour salt?

~Gerard Manley Hopkins “The Candle Indoors”

Sometimes a lantern moves along the night, 
That interests our eyes. And who goes there? 
I think; where from and bound, I wonder, where, 
With, all down darkness wide, his wading light? 

Men go by me whom either beauty bright
In mould or mind or what not else makes rare: 
They rain against our much-thick and marsh air
Rich beams, till death or distance buys them quite. 

Death or distance soon consumes them: wind
What most I may eye after, be in at the end
I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind. 

Christ minds: Christ’s interest, what to avow or amend
There, éyes them, heart wánts, care haúnts, foot fóllows kínd,
Their ránsom, théir rescue, ánd first, fást, last friénd.

~Gerard Manley Hopkins “The Lantern Out of Doors

photo by Josh Scholten

Now burn, new born to the world,
Doubled-naturèd name,
The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled
Miracle-in-Mary-of-flame,
Mid-numbered he in three of the thunder-throne!

Not a dooms-day dazzle in his coming nor dark as he came;
Kind, but royally reclaiming his own;
A released shower, let flash to the shire,
not a lightning of fíre hard-hurled.

Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us,
be a crimson-cresseted east…
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “The Wreck of the Deutschland”

In three days, we have gone from a sub-zero wind chill ice storm from the north to a balmy 60 degree storm from the south, both winds taking out our power and plunging us into a deeper darker night.

Rather than resort to generator power immediately, I break the darkness with candle light. It is only a brief respite as candles burn down, batteries die, and we’re back in darkness again until the power lines are patched and the transformers restored.

Sometimes the Advent and Christmas season can feel like that: a recharge for my faith that has gone dark and cold, a fire lit under me to banish creeping doubt and discouragement. I need more than Advent rituals and Christmas traditions to keep the darkness in its place beyond today.

God doesn’t need beeswax or batteries to keep His Light on.
He just needs us: our trust, our love, our desire for understanding, our need for Him.

We are the candles that shine forth in the world to light the way for those around us who are floundering in the dark.

And that, Charlie Brown, is what Christmas is all about…

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The Wrong Shall Fail, The Right Prevail

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

You, who are beyond our understanding,
have made yourself understandable to us in Jesus Christ.
You, who are the uncreated God,
have made yourself a creature for us.
You, who are the untouchable One,
have made yourself touchable to us.
You, who are most high,
make us capable of understanding your amazing love
and the wonderful things you have done for us.
Make us able to understand the mystery of your incarnation,
the mystery of your life, example and doctrine,
the mystery of your cross and passion,
the mystery of your resurrection and ascension.
~Angela of Foligno (1248-1309)– prayer

To all of you who come to this page each day
to read words, hear music, see images of our farm life:
may your sore heart be blessed, your troubled soul encouraged
as we explore together the mystery of who was born today.

He does not sleep, so our eyes can rest.
He came to die and rise again so we might live.
He is the beauty and truth we seek for peace on earth.

Christmas blessings to you all!

Dawn on our Darkness: O Great Mystery

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.


We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,


“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
~Thomas Hardy “The Oxen”

Says a country legend told every year:
Go to the barn on Christmas Eve and see
what the creatures do as that long night tips over.
Down on their knees they will go, the fire
of an old memory whistling through their minds!

So I went. Wrapped to my eyes against the cold
I creaked back the barn door and peered in.
From town the church bells spilled their midnight music,
and the beasts listened – yet they lay in their stalls like stone.

Oh the heretics!
Not to remember Bethlehem,
or the star as bright as a sun,
or the child born on a bed of straw!
To know only of the dissolving Now!

Still they drowsed on –
citizens of the pure, the physical world,
they loomed in the dark: powerful
of body, peaceful of mind, innocent of history.

Brothers! I whispered. It is Christmas!
And you are no heretics, but a miracle,
immaculate still as when you thundered forth
on the morning of creation!


As for Bethlehem, that blazing star

still sailed the dark, but only looked for me.
Caught in its light, listening again to its story,
I curled against some sleepy beast, who nuzzled
my hair as though I were a child, and warmed me
the best it could all night.

~Mary Oliver “Christmas Poem” from Goodness and Light

The winds were scornful,
Passing by;
And gathering Angels
Wondered why

A burdened Mother
Did not mind
That only animals
Were kind.

For who in all the world
Could guess
That God would search out
Loneliness.
~Sr. M. Chrysostom, O.S.B.  “The Stable”

Growing up on my childhood farm,
remembering the magic of Christmas eve night,
I bundled myself up to stay warm
in our barn, to witness an unbelievable sight.

At midnight we knew the animals knelt down,
speaking words we could all understand,
to worship a Child born in Bethlehem town,
in a barn, long ago in a far away land.

They were there that night, to see and to hear,
the blessings that came from the sky.
They patiently stood watch at the manger near,
in a barn, while shepherds and kings stopped by.

My trips to the barn were always too late,
our cows would be chewing, our chickens asleep,
our horses breathing softly, cats climbing the gate,
in our barn, there was never a neigh, moo or peep.

But I knew they had done it, I just missed it again!
They were plainly so calm, well-fed and at peace
in the sweet smelling straw, all snug in their pens,
in a barn, a mystery, once more, took place.

Even now, I still bundle to go out Christmas eve,
in the hope I’ll catch them just once more this time.
Though I’m older and grayer, I still firmly believe
in the barn, a Birth happened amid cobwebs and grime.

Our horses sigh low as they hear me come near,
that tells me the time I hope for is now,
they will drop to their knees without any fear
in our barn, as worship, all living things bow.

I wonder anew at God’s immense trust
for His creatures so sheltered that darkening night –
the mystery of why of all places, His Son must
begin life in a barn: a welcoming most holy and right.
~ “In the Barn” (written Christmas Eve 1999)

Latin text
O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
iacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Iesum Christum.
Alleluia!

English translation
O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the newborn Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
the Lord, Jesus Christ.
Alleluia!

Jesus our brother, strong and good
Was humbly born in a stable rude
And the friendly beasts around him stood
Jesus our brother, strong and good
“I, ” said the donkey, shaggy and brown
“I carried his mother up hill and down
I carried his mother to Bethlehem town”
“I, ” said the donkey, shaggy and brown
“I, ” said the cow, all white and red
“I gave him my manger for his bed
I gave him my hay to pillow his head”
“I, ” said the cow, all white and red
“I, ” said the sheep with curly horn
“I gave him my wool for his blanket warm
He wore my coat on Christmas morn”
“I, ” said the sheep with curly horn
“I, ” said the dove from the rafters high
“I cooed him to sleep so he would not cry
We cooed him to sleep, my mate and I”
“I, ” said the dove from rafters high
Thus every beast by some good spell
In the stable dark was glad to tell
Of the gifts they gave Emmanuel
Of the gifts they gave Emmanuel

Dawn on our Darkness: Snowbound Snowblind Longing

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.
John 3:8

To look at the last great self-portraits of Rembrandt or to read Pascal or hear Bach’s B-minor Mass is to know beyond the need for further evidence that if God is anywhere, he is with them, as he is also with the man behind the meat counter, the woman who scrubs floors at Roosevelt Memorial, the high-school math teacher who explains fractions to the bewildered child. And the step from “God with them” to Emmanuel, “God with us,” may not be as great as it seems.

What keeps the wild hope of Christmas alive year after year in a world notorious for dashing all hopes is the haunting dream that the child who was born that day may yet be born again even in us and our own snowbound, snowblind longing for him.
~Frederick Buechner from A Room Called Remember

God gave us all a garden once
and walked with us at eve
that we might know him face to face
with no need to believe.

But we denied and hid from Him,
concealing our own shame,
yet still He came and looked for us,
and called us each by name.

He found us when we hid from Him,
He clothed us with His grace.
But still we turned our backs on Him
and would not see His face.

So now, He comes to us again,
not as a Lord most high,
but weak and helpless as we are,
that we might hear Him cry.

And He who clothed us in our need,
lies naked in the straw,
that we might wrap Him in our rags
when once we fled in awe.

The strongest comes in weakness now,
a stranger to our door,
the King forsakes His palaces
and dwells among the poor.

And where we hurt, He hurts with us,
and when we weep, He cries.
He knows the heart of all our hurts,
the inside of our sighs.

He does not look down from up above,
but gazes up at us,
that we might take Him in our arms,
He always cradles us.

And if we welcome Him again,
with open hands and heart,
He’ll plant His garden deep in us,
the end from which we start.


And in that garden, there’s a tomb,
whose stone is rolled away,
where we and everything we’ve loved
are lowered in the clay.

But lo! the tomb is empty now,
and clothed in living light,
His ransomed people walk with One
who came on Christmas night.

So come, Lord Jesus, find in me
the child you came to save,
stoop tenderly with wounded hands
and lift me from my grave.


Be with us all, Emmanuel,
and keep us close and true,
be with us till that kingdom comes
where we will be with You.

~Malcolm Guite“A Tale of Two Gardens”

Heaven could not hold God. 

Even though He is worshiped by angels, it is enough for Him to be held in His mother’s arms, His face kissed, His tummy full, to be bedded in a manger in lantern light.

It is enough for Him, as He is enough for us — even born as one of us, poor as we are — snowbound and ice-locked in our longing for something – anything – more. Our empty hearts fill with Him who came down when heaven could not hold Him any longer.

Imagine that. It is enough to melt us to readiness.

This year’s Advent theme “Dawn on our Darkness” is taken from this 19th century Christmas hymn:

Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
dawn on our darkness and lend us your aid.
Star of the east, the horizon adorning,
guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.
~Reginald Heber -from “Brightest and Best”

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Dawn on our Darkness: For Unto Us…

photo from Lynden Choral Society

A little heat caught
in gleaming rags,
in shrouds of veil,
torn and sun-shot swaddlings:

   over the Methodist roof,
two clouds propose a Zion
of their own, blazing
(colors of tarnish on copper)

   against the steely close
of a coastal afternoon, December,
while under the steeple
the Choral Society

   prepares to perform
Messiah, pouring, in their best
blacks and whites, onto the raked stage.
Not steep, really,

   but from here,
the first pew, they’re a looming
cloudbank of familiar angels:
that neighbor who

   fights operatically
with her girlfriend, for one,
and the friendly bearded clerk
from the post office

   —tenor trapped
in the body of a baritone? Altos
from the A&P, soprano
from the T-shirt shop:

   today they’re all poise,
costume and purpose
conveying the right note
of distance and formality.

   Silence in the hall,
anticipatory, as if we’re all
about to open a gift we’re not sure
we’ll like;

   how could they
compete with sunset’s burnished
oratorio? Thoughts which vanish,
when the violins begin.

   Who’d have thought
they’d be so good? Every valley,
proclaims the solo tenor,
(a sleek blonde

   I’ve seen somewhere before
—the liquor store?) shall be exalted,
and in his handsome mouth the word
is lifted and opened

   into more syllables
than we could count, central ah
dilated in a baroque melisma,
liquefied; the pour

   of voice seems
to make the unplaned landscape
the text predicts the Lord
will heighten and tame.

   This music
demonstrates what it claims:
glory shall be revealed. If art’s
acceptable evidence,

   mustn’t what lies
behind the world be at least
as beautiful as the human voice?
The tenors lack confidence,

   and the soloists,
half of them anyway, don’t
have the strength to found
the mighty kingdoms

   these passages propose
—but the chorus, all together,
equals my burning clouds,
and seems itself to burn,

   commingled powers
deeded to a larger, centering claim.
These aren’t anyone we know;
choiring dissolves

   familiarity in an up-
pouring rush which will not
rest, will not, for a moment,
be still.

   Aren’t we enlarged
by the scale of what we’re able
to desire? Everything,
the choir insists,

   might flame;
inside these wrappings
burns another, brighter life,
quickened, now,

   by song: hear how
it cascades, in overlapping,
lapidary waves of praise? Still time.
Still time to change.

~Mark Doty “Messiah (Christmas Portions)”

Lynden Choral Society

Our small town
Has more churches than banks-

With a century old choral society
With a Christmas tradition of singing Handel’s Messiah.

Sixty-some enthusiastic singers recruited without auditions
Through church bulletin announcements:

Farmers, store clerks, machinists, students
Grade schoolers to senior citizens

Gather in an unheated church for six weeks of rehearsal
To perform one man’s great gift to sacred music.

Handel, given a libretto commissioned to compose,
Isolated himself for 24 days – barely ate or slept,

Believed himself confronted by all heaven itself
To see the face of God,

And so created overture, symphony, arias, oratorios
Soaring, interwoven themes repeating, resounding

With despair, mourning, anticipation
Renewal, redemption, restoration, triumph.

Delicate appoggiaturas and melismata
Of astounding complexity and intricacy.

A tapestry of sound and sensation unparalleled,
To be shouted from the soul, wrung from the heart.

This changing group of rural people gathers annually to join voices
Honoring faith foretold, realized, proclaimed.

Ably led by a forgiving director with a sense of humor
And a nimble organist with flying feet and fingers.

The lilting sopranos with angel song,
The altos a steadfast harmonic support,

The tenors echo plaintive prophecy
The base voices remain full and resonant.

The strings paint a heaven-sent refrain
In a duet of counterpoint melody.

The audience sits, eyes closed
Remembering oft-repeated familiar verses.

The sanctuary overflows
With thankfulness and praise as we shall be changed.

Glory to God! For unto us a Child is born
And all the people, whether singers or listeners, are comforted.

Dan and Emily after the 2008 Messiah performance

This year’s Advent theme “Dawn on our Darkness” is taken from this 19th century Christmas hymn:

Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
dawn on our darkness and lend us your aid.
Star of the east, the horizon adorning,
guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.
~Reginald Heber -from “Brightest and Best”

Our small town choral society:

and now for the professionals…

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