So much of the Great Grayness that we are living through is covered with noise and disconnection. We read of or hear people screaming, horns blasting, helicopters hovering, sirens klaxoning all through our roads and towns. I long for peaceful silence, and yet there is a hopeful lilt in the atmosphere when I hear beautiful harmony. It is in the old carol’s words, “heavenly music (that) floats o’er all the weary world.”
It grounds me in the promise of Hebrew Scripture that there will come a day with a new heaven and a new earth, where the wolf and the lamb shall feed together and the lion shall eat straw like the ox (Isaiah 65: 17, 25). Things will fit together and make beautiful music together. Most Sunday mornings as soon as I wake, I tune into our local classical music station to the offering called “Soul Music.” For three hours I drink in choral music, primarily sacred, sung to ancient texts of Hebrew and Christian Scripture. Some of it is sung in languages other than my own; some of it offers plangent chords and melodies which cover the words. But the bringing together of the voices themselves–four part, madrigal, chant, echoes–all remind me of the promised dream: Peace on earth and good will to all people.
I practice feeding that dream all during Advent and Christmas. This year so far I have heard Eric Whitacre conduct a holiday concert in the downtown Disney Hall, blending old Christmas songs with his modern compositions. I have heard our church choir sing one of Bach’s less known cantatas, “For Unto Us a Child in Born,” expressing words of hope and trust. In our small group of friends who have gathered for 20 years, as we reflected on this past year and anticipated turning into the new year , we sang in the half-light, “O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here…” Then we sang, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel,” words from the 9th C. Latin, hoping, looking, trusting, as we are trying to do. And the harmonies reassure me that it is all true!
In my conversations in these days, which can so readily turn to despair and bleakness, I listen for the harmonies can keep me hopeful. There is a family widely divergent in their politics whose members treat each other with love and respect. There is a man who has given himself to caring for an aging family member, as he volunteers at his church for the jobs that no one else does. There is a church who provides a community dinner every Sunday night all year long for the seasonal workers who come through the town. There is a community of educators who unanimously vote to safeguard its students who are at risk of deportation. There is a church who goes out on a limb to bring justice and mercy for those who are at risk in the neighborhood.
My call as the music in me and around me brings harmony to the world is to be one of the voices that fills in the chords, that supports the ostinato beneath the solo, that helps the chorus swell with joy as the Light appears, or even as the Hope of it soothes my heart. I sense I want to be one of the angels that the carol sings about and let the Hope in harmony fill me:
And you beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low,/ who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow,/ look now for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing:/ O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing. (It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Sears.)
The illustration is taken from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Me, too, friend. I sang the Rutter “Gloria” along with Vaughn Williams “Christmas Fantasia” in the community college choir concert on the 3rd. And then promptly got the worst cold I’ve had in a while, which made the carol sing and other musical opportunities last week impossible. But we found another concert, this one a high school one, sung at the beautiful old Catholic church down the street from our first home in Santa Barbara. It came at the very end of last week and was lovely. This year, it’s the song that keeps me moving toward hope. Always the song.