I read a wonderful piece by Henri Nouwen in my Advent readings (November 28 in Watch for the Light by Orbis Press) about the spiritual practice of waiting. This is a time of year when we have to wait, by intention during the Advent season if we pay attention, or by default as we wait in line or on snowy roads. Often at this time of year our waiting is grumpy and passive: "I had to wait for hours!" Spiritual practice waiting is waiting with a sense of promise; spiritual practice waiting is not passive or hopeless, but active. "The secret of waiting is the faith that the seed has been planted, that something has begun." (p. 31) From the familiar Christmas story, Nouwen mentions Zechariah and Elizabeth and Mary as ones who typify this spiritual practice. Keep the faith as you have to wait for things, or ponder these things in your hearts, the seed that has been planted.
At this or any time of year there is not a restorative spiritual practice that includes a shopping frenzy, or rude drivers, or bad weather, but there are compensatory spiritual practices: smiling at harried store clerks and thanking them, for example, or deciding to spend ten minutes as a gift to ten people and waving the people who are waiting at intersections into the flow of traffic. And remember it's a practice to do this, not perfection.
Friday I took a mental wellness day--excellent timing as we got an amazing thundersnow and that meant I wasn't driving in that, but safely at home. I did a little deconstructive writing about Hell--but I won't go into more of that. School work continues to be engaging.
I did go out to the Mount Holyoke Christmas Vespers concert in Boston--taking public transportation because I hadn't shoveled out completely. As I walked by, I reminded someone who was shoveling and bemoaning that he didn't get his run in today that shoveling snow is really one of the best exercises to burn calories. Good to remember as I face another hour of it this morning.
The Vespers concert was wonderful. Cathy Melhorn, who was my advisor in college, is retiring, so this was her last Christmas Vespers concert. Despite the snow, the church was full of an audience there to honor her and enjoy the music. There was a solid five minutes of applause at the end of the concert--great concert. I also saw a number of friends from college whom I hadn't seen in several years who had come in from upstate New York and Vermont and Chicago. That's one of the gifts of holiday events--the people you might see there. It was good to catch up, even briefly.
I was reminded that the processional, the second antiphon for Christmas Hodie Christus natus est which is used before the Magnificat, was one of those pieces of music that was absolutely formational in both my musical and spiritual life. At this Vespers it's done by candlelight, and last night the movement of the sound of young women's voices as they were walking by was a flashback. The flashback though, was not just thirty years to when I did this, but back a thousand years or more. As they walked, singing, carrying single candles into a darkened stone vaulted church, bringing in the light, the music echoes in time--it's not just resonant in space. I actually referred to this chant in a paper last month as part of the link that music is in my pastoral or operative theology. Today Christ is born; my soul magnifies the Lord. Perhaps it is not a surprise that it echoes still. Mary's song, from the first chapter of Luke is one of the most powerful of Biblical prayers, echoing as it does Hannah's song before the birth of her son, Samuel (I Samuel 2: 1-10--can you tell that I'm taking Hebrew Bible classes this semester?). Women's voices bringing light and hope into the dark world: "God makes poor and makes rich; God brings low and also exalts. God raises up the poor from the dust; God lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor." "God has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. … God has filled the hungry with good things and the rich God has sent empty away."
One of the contemporary pieces tonight by Libby Larsen used this poem text by Catherine de Vinck which captured that idea:
The Womanly Song of God (2003)
I am the woman dancing the world
Birds on my wrists
sun-feathers in my hair
I leap through hoops of atoms:
under my steps
plants burst into bloom
birches tremble in silver.
Can you not see the roundness of me:
curves of the earth
Maternal arms of the sea
I am the birthing woman
kneeling by the river
Heaving, pushing forth a sacred body
Round, round the wind
spinning itself wild
Drawing great circles of music
across the sky.
Round the gourd full of seeds
round the moon in its ripeness
Round the door through which I come
stooping into your house.
I am the God of a thousand names:
why cannot one of them be
I give thanks to and for those people in my life like Cathy Melhorn, and other fine teachers and musicians, who help me and others create life, and soul, and joy, and insight from little black dots on paper: both words and music. May song bless each of our hearts in this season.
Peace, hope, joy, love, and faith: our prayers for this time of waiting,