Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Now that it's Christmas, it's liturgically correct to say so. :) Enjoy this second day of Christmas with friends and family.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

In the Wake of Tragedy

Like many of us across the nation, I'm feeling pretty flattened after the news of the shooting in Newtown, CT last week. I don't have a lot of emotional energy to write, or do anything else other than go to rehearsals for this Friday's concert by my choir. So here's a round-up of some of the best blog posts and reactions from around the internet:

What We Parents Must Do - Jim Wallace at Sojourners
Children's Sermons RE: Newtown Tragedy - Jeremy Smith at Hacking Christianity
Religious Leaders Push Congregants on Gun Control - New York Times
God Can't Be Kept Out - Rachel Held Evans
God is Here? - Michael Hidalgo, Newtown resident

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Advent: Pregnant with Possibilities

Advent is my favorite season in the liturgical calendar for two reasons: it spotlights incarnational theology (my favorite!), and the readings lift up women and women's bodies as integral to the story of God's salvific work in the world. Jesus' coming heralded a new possibility- a new reality- for the relationship between God and humanity. Mary, and to a certain extent Elizabeth as well, brought forth this new reality when they gave birth to Jesus and John.

Recently, many of my friends have been becoming pregnant, being pregnant, and giving birth to new babies. Following their Facebook status updates, I've realized just how tiring this work can be. By the end of the 36-40 weeks, my friends are tired, cranky, and ready to be done being pregnant. Imagine how Mary must have felt having to deal with a donkey ride on top of all that! But once she gave birth, the work and the sleep deprivation were just beginning. Silent night? Hardly!

By now, it seems like the Christmas season is descending into craziness. The number of social engagements, which once seemed like such a great idea, are now taking up all of our free time. For some of us, the pressure is on to produce beautiful meals and desserts for our loved ones. How on earth are we going to get it all done? We blink through bleariness to light Advent candles. Peace, love, and joy? That's not what we're feeling right now. All of usual din of the holiday season often makes it difficult to remember the meaning and miracle of the Advent season. Although we're aware of Advent (at least once a week), the Prince of Peace isn't here yet, and it's hard to keep our Christian charity in the midst of all the hustle and bustle.

But under the surface of our everyday lives, God is transforming the present. Quietly, gradually, God's grace is working in our hearts, just as little ones grow in the womb. Before we know it, the time to celebrate God's coming is among us! And we might just be caught a little off-guard because our focus has been elsewhere.

I think that's OK. When Mary and Elizabeth were pregnant, it was hard work for them. They might have been kind of cranky. They might have wondered why God picked them. I am reminded that work of transformation in our lives, and in the world, is not always easy. Sometimes I wonder why God picked me to be about the work of God's Kingdom in the world. It's hard to pay attention to the still, small voice when advertizements clamor and Christmas remixes blare. That's why we have traditions like lighting the Advent candles on the Advent wreath. It helps us to remember God's work of grace in our lives, and in the world, even in the middle of everything.

The significance of Mary's lived experience for our spiritual lives, I think, is that Mary shared our experience. Like Mary, we labor to bring about God's Kingdom, and sometimes we just labor to get through the next few weeks until it's time to rest. In the midst of seasonal commitments and stress, I try to remember that Mary's reality wasn't always sweetness and light either, but she stuck with it. Those small moments of remembrance are the little bit of Advent in my heart.

How do you keep a little bit of Advent in your heart, despite the trappings and demands of the "Christmas season"?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Tale of Two Concerts

Well, it’s officially the Christmas season, and the weekly overabundance of concerts is upon us. This week I’ve already been to two, one as an audience member and one as a singer. The experiences couldn’t have been more different, but they certainly cast the entire season in perspective.

Last Sunday, someone at church announced that she was unable to attend a performance of Handel’s The Messiah by Handel and Hayden Society that afternoon, and asked whether anyone would be able to take her tickets. Since it’s my favorite musical work, of course I jumped at the chance! After Brunch Bunch with the Young Adult Group, I headed straight to Symphony Hall. It was wonderfully decorated with garlands and ornaments. My seat was in the center of the first balcony. Even from the back of the hall, I could recognize my friends in the group when they came onstage. While it was hard for me not to sing along, H&H’s incredible crisp constants and shimmering tone had me rapt. The conductor, Harry Christophers, is eccentric and demanding, but brilliant; his animated body movements enlivened the experience of watching a live performance. The accompaniment by the H&H period orchestra was flawless, with precise but expressive bowings by the strings and an overall interpretation that was flowing and effortless, but also lively and inspired. I got chills more than a few times! As I sat listening to the familiar-but-fresh performance of some of my favorite biblical texts, I found myself writing sermons in my head… or else reminding myself of the authorship, contexts, and redaction history of the various texts being sung. This year, I was especially touched by “Comfort Ye, My People,” “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted,” “For Unto Us a Child is Born,” and “Worthy Is The Lamb.” Here’s a clip for the last one, and “Hallelujah”:

Of course, everyone stood for the Hallelujah Chorus and applauded afterward. I thought the crowd’s appreciation was impressive then, but that was just at the end of Part 2. When Part 3 (and thus the concert) concluded, everyone leapt to their feet, cheering, and demanded multiple bows from the choir, orchestra, and soloists. Yes, I felt the entire place was bursting with joy.

 The next day, I headed to Watertown with Chorus Pro Musica to sing at the Perkins School for the Blind. The Perkins School began serving only blind children and teens, but it has expanded to include services for kids with multiple and varied handicapping conditions. Although we were under rehearsed, the kids and their families were so happy to see us. We sang six or seven songs for them, and they weren’t our hardest repertoire, but the audience cheered so loudly for each one, it was almost raucous. Sometimes Betsy (our conductor) would introduce a song and one kid would shout “my favorite!” When she introduced “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” she asked the kids to sing the “five golden rings” part and said we would sing the rest. “Good luck!” quipped a teen. Given that we had not had a great rehearsal, we had to laugh, because we needed it. The spirit in the room was just as joyful and exuberant as Symphony Hall the day before, if not more so! I was impressed with the amount of noise! And, it seemed, we hardly did anything. When the secondary school choir sang “Sleigh Ride”, our basses, tenors, and altos filled in the chords underneath them. Sharing the evening and the stage with these special kids and their families was certainly a contrast to the day before. While the concert and audience were hardly refined, Christmas joy abounded there, too.

In liturgical time, it’s still Advent, and many of my colleagues and acquaintances don’t know that. But I think that the secular preemptive celebration of Christmas helps me to prepare the way for the Christ child in my heart— through art and charitable work. When I open my heart and give of my time to people like the disabled kids I met on Monday, the inside of my heart becomes a little roomier. ‘Tis the season indeed. Would that we could all be this generous and inclusive throughout the rest of the year.