I have a horrible singing voice. Always have. Really. My older son, at the age of two, would order me to stop serenading him…”Bop, mommy, bop!”
I love to sing, and always thought it was a cruel joke to be born with such passionate desire but zero ability. But from fifth grade through eighth, I was part of the Christmas Eve choir at our church; you just had to want to do it & you were in. We practiced for weeks in advance and I loved every minute.
I can remember the excitement of dressing up and heading out in the wintery, star-scattered cold to sing at Midnight Mass. The church, cocooned by the night, gleamed and glowed; inside it was warm and scented with incense. We stood in front of the congregation on that holy night, all of us scrubbed clean, shiny inside and out, singing with earnest devotion and pumped-up volume (fortunately there were enough voices to drown my wrong notes, sung powerfully and passionately). It was sacred ritual for us (even if we didn't know those words or that concept) and for the congregation, and to this day I love Christmas carols, even though I've long since stopped embracing the premise of savior-born-in-a-manger-to-rescue-us-all-from-sin-and-hell.
But this year I’m finding my love of these seasonal songs has turned into an aching, a craving for them. In the car's CD player I have Nat King Cole and Ann Murray Christmas albums because they were immediately available at my library. It’s not the light and fluffy songs I’m after; Jingle Bells isn’t getting the job done. My heart and soul are longing for the heavy hitters: O Holy Night; Little Town of Bethlehem; It Came Upon a Midnight Clear; Joy to the World; Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel…and of course, that most potent and joyous of all, Angels We Have Heard on High.
No, I haven’t converted; I’m still a dirt-worshipping, tree-hugging, Goddess-loving pagan, though I don’t dispute the birth of Jesus and his impact on humanity. So why this desire for the most traditional songs of the season? I think it’s the threads of hope and profound joy that run through them. Like so many people, five weeks after the election I’m still reeling. The ‘breaking news’ buzzes on my phone, the NPR news reports on my drive home, even many of the facebook ‘trending’ news bits, take little bites out of my spirit. I keep waiting waiting for a punchline, or for someone to say "STOP! This isn't how it's going to be! It was all a mistake; we now resume our regularly scheduled program".
I can’t recall ever wanting so intensely to hunker down in our home, drink herb tea, dream of our gardens and one day farming, cuddle with Linda & the critters, and basically not be out in the world again for at least four years. The recent snowfall hushed the noise and tucked us in for a couple of days; I was so grateful to be nestled in, away from the world. It feels like we have entered into a collective dark night of the soul with nary a spark of hope or comfort in sight.
It occurred to me as I stood in the new-fallen snow yesterday that these most traditional carols consistently honor the sanctity of the night (a night) and its birthing of new light, new promise. I never noticed until this year how many of the songs speak of the night not as ‘bad’ or scary, but as holy, as a sacred transitional moment before the Light is born. Ya know, kind of like…Winter Solstice. We embrace the dark night while having absolute faith the light will return. That’s a heavy-handed analogy maybe, night-Solstice-current politics, but sitting here in the cozy livingroom-office, watching birds out in the snow, animals sleeping nearby, hearing Linda in her office, it feels right.
And so, as Yule approaches, I hope to regain equilibrium in this breath of balance between night and light. I’ll let Winter work its healing because faith and experience remind me the light will come. Green things will stretch, deep down in the dark earth, then reach for the sun. All things change eventually.
And in the meantime, I’ll sing carols, with earnest devotion and pumped-up volume.