Wednesday, December 5, 2012

On angels' wings

Sing, choirs of angels!  Sing in exaltation!  Sing all ye citizens of heav'n above....

It seems that no matter what else is happening for me as the calendar rolls around to December, there's a moment when my heart knows it's Christmas.

It has nothing to do with decorating trees, or seeing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on tv, or getting started with the cookie baking, or even a specific day or date.  It happens when my fellow church-choir sopranos and I "uncork it" (as a tenor friend used to call it)  on the third verse of "O Come All Ye Faithful" with that glorious, soaring David Willcocks descant. At that moment, when I draw that deliciously low breath I'll need to get through the phrase, I feel like I'm drawing that breath from the ground under my feet. I'm rooted and grounded in the fellowship of people I love, firmly tethered to the love of God. And because I'm that securely tethered, I am, paradoxically, free to soar above whatever else has come before and whatever else will follow.

(If you have no idea what a "descant" is, or what this particular one is, click this link, then skip to time marker 2:17 in the video. O Come All Ye Faithful - David Willcocks arr. Kings College   and listen to those little choirboy sopranos "uncork it".  It's actually more outrageously fun when it's sung by women with a bit more heft to their voices, but you get the basic idea.) 

This year, as the kids and I drove home from a place without malls, gaudy yard decorations, or a "hurry up Christmas" Thanksgiving celebration, I was unprepared for what the onslaught of "The Holiday Season" would feel like this year. (In the spirit of "do you hear what I hear?", I think I hear, floating back from you all a chorus of... "DUH !!!")  Yes, it's only been five months since my husband's suicide, and yes, the economic reality connected to that is a little daunting, but (oops! Make that "and"-- see my previous post, "getting off my 'but' ")   I'd been feeling optimistic that I'd be able to help my kids sail through this season with just a little extra effort.

And therein lies the rub: a little extra effort.  Let's be real here: if you're a Mom, Christmas is already the Feast of the Thousand-Item To-Do List in a good year: cleaning, baking, decorating, party planning, the cards (or, in my case, The Letter), shopping for the gifts, making the gifts (Ok, that usually starts by late August or mid-September for me), church events, school events (please bake 6 dozen exactly symmetrical gingerbread men)... and for each of those things, there are a million details that must be juggled.  So, this year, I was thinking that a "little extra effort" might be possible??  (Yes, everybody feel free to sing along:  "DUH" !!!)

I've been shaking my head in denial when I run through the to-do list in my head and the paralysis begins to set in. I've been feeling so guilty that I just can't seem to gather up the energy to "make the magic happen" this year, for my kids' sake, for my friends' sake.

And then on Sunday night, there I was, in my silly sparkly Christmas sweater, wearing a green felt Christmas tree on my head, in the company of probably 200 other singers, from age 4 to mid 70's, getting ready to walk in the processional to the choir loft.  John began the introduction on the organ, we began the first verse, sang the second verse, and by the time we got to "sing, choirs of angels..." I realized that's just where I was, in the company of angels, young and old who are with me every year, filling that sacred space with song.  These are some of the same angels who have been carrying me through the days and nights since July 13th, when my life turned upside down and I temporarily lost my capacity for flight.  I realized that I was taking part in one ritual of Christmas that had remained untouched by Andre's death.  Andre had never really been part of this particular Christmas tradition, preferring instead the quiet of an empty house while the kids and I sang in our respective choirs.

And so, this year, as I sat in the choir loft, or stood to sing, joy washed over me in waves as I realized that I was in a part of Christmas that was not haunted by memories.  Nor would it require my lists, my planning, my chasing after the details.  All I had to do was be present in each moment.  And there were so many moments when my heart was almost too full.  This year, watching and listening as our Cherub Choir (age 4 and 5) sang, I silently added my prayer to the verse that they sang:  (I have a "thing" for the inner verses of well-known carols... anybody else?)

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
And fit us for Heaven, to live with Thee there.

And for that moment, and many others that followed that evening, that's just what God was doing.

(No, this isn't this year's photo or this year's tree. It will have to do, though.  )


  1. As always Val, insightful, honest and beautiful. Oh...and brave.