A cardinal, the very essence of red, stabs
the hedgerow with his piercing notes;
a chickadee adds three short beats,
part of the percussion section, and a white-
throated sparrow moves the melody along.
Last night, at a concert, crashing waves
of Prokofiev; later, the soft rain falling
steadily and a train whistle off in the distance.
And today, the sun, waiting for its cue,
comes out from the clouds for a short sweet
solo, then sits back down, rests between turns.
On the other side of the world, night’s black
bass fiddle rosins its bow, draws it over
the strings, resonates with the breath
of sleepers, animal, vegetable, human.
All the world breathes in, breathes out.
It hums, it throbs, it improvises. So many voices.
Only one song.
Here’s a video from Britain that provides a lovely audiovisual accompaniment:
This Christmas carol with words by Eleanor Farejon came into my life only a few years ago. I can see why it’s not as favored as some that have a fuller theology of the Incarnation, but there is so much that could be said about the significance of God taking on human flesh, I want to make use of all that has been written about this event.
This one is lovely in the way it captures some of the anticipation I feel as I also try to “make my house as fair as I am able.” It’s comforting to have the wisdom of a woman combined with the upbeat melody, a different tone altogether from “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” — but it is in sync with that joy of preparation of the material aspects of our Christmas feast. And after all, we are celebrating the mystery of God becoming material.
As St. John of Damascus said, “I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter.” God entered His creation of seed, stars, birds, and dirt, and because He did, they are made glorious. Now, we give them back to him in celebration.
PEOPLE, LOOK EAST
People, look east. The time is near Of the crowning of the year. Make your house fair as you are able, Trim the hearth and set the table. People, look east and sing today: Love, the guest, is on the way.
Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare, One more seed is planted there: Give up your strength the seed to nourish, That in course the flower may flourish. People, look east and sing today: Love, the rose, is on the way.
Birds, though you long have ceased to build, Guard the nest that must be filled. Even the hour when wings are frozen God for fledging time has chosen. People, look east and sing today: Love, the bird, is on the way.
Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim One more light the bowl shall brim, Shining beyond the frosty weather, Bright as sun and moon together. People, look east and sing today: Love, the star, is on the way.
Angels, announce with shouts of mirth Christ who brings new life to earth. Set every peak and valley humming With the word, the Lord is coming. People, look east and sing today: Love, the Lord, is on the way.
If I from California look east across the globe, I might come eventually to Ukraine, where these monks are singing carols. I don’t understand the words, but I know well what they are singing about. We are singing all over the earth about the pivotal event of history.
I didn’t encounter this Christmas carol, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” until long past my childhood. For various reasons it is one of my favorites now. This is a nice version:
I also love this one sung in Ely Cathedral:
Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming From tender stem hath sprung! Of Jesse’s lineage coming, As men of old have sung. It came, a flow’ret bright, Amid the cold of winter, When half spent was the night.
Isaiah ’twas foretold it, The Rose I have in mind; With Mary we behold it, The virgin mother kind. To show God’s love aright, She bore to men a Savior, When half spent was the night.
This Flow’r, whose fragrance tender With sweetness fills the air, Dispels with glorious splendor The darkness everywhere. True man, yet very God, From sin and death He saves us, And lightens every load.
By the time our family brought this carol into our repertoire, several of us would enjoy singing the carol in its original language when we gathered at Christmastime, at least a few times. Even before their father ceased to be one of the singers, the details of our festivities had begun to change. It’s been a while since we have been able to sing as many carols as we would like, usually because of the needs of small children.
This year I will sing it by myself. It will be a good chance to try the German version again and work on memorizing it. The tone and the message are certainly sweet like the loveliest rose. I appreciate the reminder of how Christ ultimately defeated death by his death. God is with us! That’s why every Christmas can be a merry one, and why I’m eagerly looking forward to this feast.
I first titled this post “Melodies of life,” then “Melodies play in my mind…” but then I realized that music is more pervasive than that. My heart is full of melodies today. I mentioned last summer how Kate’s husband Tom would sing about everything; I asked him to make up a song for going to the Indian market and he was on it immediately and with a good will.
Now it’s Raj who sings all day, as long as he is in a happy mood. As the weeks went by and he got used to being in Grandma’s house, his mood gradually improved. But the change when his father returned from extended job training was dramatic. Until then, I think he was intuitively ill at ease, what with his nanny and father both “disappearing” and being replaced with Grandma. Once the family unit was restored he relaxed and became much less reactive. The songs increased.
His mother has created custom eclectic playlists of songs to play for the children, including many from her own childhood, when we had our favorites to sing on trips and before bed, and sometimes around the piano. From being fed throughout his whole short life by both the recorded music and the singing parents, Raj seems to have at his disposal a hundred songs to sing as medleys while he is playing.
He has been allowed to watch toddler videos in Spanish, which I found very educational for myself. When I achieved 500 days in a row in my Duolingo “study” a few weeks ago, I stopped; it just seemed like too much with all the world events demanding my attention. So I’ve enjoyed learning some new words and phrases by means of catchy songs (on “Super Simple” Spanish, YouTube) like “Ponte tus zapatos, zapatos, zapatos…”
At his morning naptime the parents sing to little Rigo, and I could hear them from downstairs, especially when Tom returned and took his turns in a man’s voice. “As I Went Down in the River to Pray,” was reintroduced to my own musical repertoire in this way. Other sweet reminders are “You Are My Sunshine” and “I Feel Like a Morning Star.” These melodies have comforted our souls, especially as we were repeatedly recovering from little boy noise — oh, my! The wild energy is exhausting; I’m glad the parents are young.
The family departed this morning for their new home and jobs in Panama. It’s the same daughter whom I visited in India two years ago, where I was able to be present when their firstborn arrived. I’m posting a few more stories and pictures before I move on to the next chapter of my life.
One discovery Raj led me to was manzanita berries as food. He found a funny unused plant stand in the greenhouse that he liked to sit on, and one day I found him in there chewing on something from a cup. He had collected manzanita berries from under the bush. I knew that they weren’t toxic, but I had never heard of any human eating them, so I looked them up and found an article about how you can use the unripe berries to make cider, the ripe berries in baked goods; you can even boil the seeds to make “a sophisticated drink.” No joke!
Well, if a toddler was enjoying them, and going back for more, I must sample one myself. I tried several, actually, and they do taste good, but there is not much flesh to taste! You immediately get to the seeds in the middle, which are basically three little stones filling the fruit. I hope I never am so poor that I need to survive on them.
Their last day here, when Tom and Kate were busy packing, Raj had been informed that the trip was imminent. Finally they would go to their new house in that mythical place called Panama, which he’d heard about for several months. He was as cheerful as could be, working from the essential understanding that they would be on an airplane and an adventure again. Finally he had a personal use for the phrase that he’s heard so often in the last year: “You ‘tay here, I be right back!” He told me this many times, as the move was the topic of the day.
And when in my bedroom he found a stuffed llama toy, he thought he’d like to get in my “big red bed” with it, and he snuggled there for at least a half an hour, leaving and returning with books to read, and more stuffed animals, chattering nonstop. He found a basket of Christmas cards and “read” all two dozen of them; I particularly liked this activity!
What will I do, now that it’s quiet here again? I managed to note on paper at least a couple dozen songs that I heard my grandson sing over the last few weeks, and I’ll try to create my own playlist of cheerful tunes to keep filling my house and heart. ❤