Right, so usually my editorial style guide for Genuwyne Quality Content on this blog tends to the dignified and pensive, because being flippant and off-the-cuff very often blows up in my face.
But it’s just before solstice, I’m a little exhausted from grievous things, my dignified and pensive reserves have been diverted to composition for my sermon this Sunday, and then I ran across this little gem, so it’s going in today’s Advent window. Enjoy!
I know, we’re still a week out from Christmas itself. But this is what I’m in the mood to post: a clip from the film Joyeux Noel, which if you haven’t seen it, never mind this and go watch.
The Christmas Truce of 1914 is an event that has always fascinated me. And no doubt the power of this story fed into my imagination when I was conceiving the funeral sequence in Ryswyck. It’s obvious that the powers who prosecute wars don’t trust to the discipline of soldiers to recognize the humanity of their enemy — and kill them anyway. And possibly they are correct: it’s a very short hop from “I don’t like to kill you but I’m going to do it for my country’s sake” to “Why were we doing this, again?” Much easier to convince people that they are fighting to exterminate subhuman vermin who can’t encompass the complex conscience (in French that word has a happy dual meaning of both “conscience” and “consciousness”) that they themselves enjoy.
On the other hand, I can’t think of anything more soul-corroding than to take on board a view of other humans (in groups or individually) as either degraded figures compared to yourself, or else non-player characters to whom you can do anything you like and the meaning it has for you is the sole meaning it has altogether. And I think part of what makes the spectacle of sexism or racism or what-have-you so maddening is just that sight of people trying to rescue their own vision of themselves by doing exactly that harm which will thwart their own hopes. (Not that I care about the fate of sexists and racists more than that of the people they harm, but you’d think some net good would come of it, and it’s exactly the opposite.) As C.S. Lewis pointed out, hurting someone increases your resentment against them, rather than discharging it.
But to cast down the mighty from their thrones, and to lift up the lowly is good news for the mighty too. We need more Christmas Truces to make that clear.
Yesterday it snowed more, and I worked from the home office in the wintry hush. Solstice is approaching: and the Great O Antiphons are here.
The last seven days before Christmas Eve are celebrated with these antiphons — refrains preceding the Magnificat at Evensong — that invoke Our Lord with names and honorifics, gathering up the goodness of the world in one sweep before the Nativity. (The antiphons are probably best known as the verses of “O Come, O Come Immanuel”.) They form a sort of crescendo to the celebration of Christmas.
But I have to admit that my favorite one is the first one: O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence. I love how Wisdom is framed in metaphors of discursive intellect, and yet is not really any such thing. It’s an articulate silence that seems to characterize this force that “mightily and sweetly” orders all things. And many times, when I have encountered a profound moral lesson, I have had to resort to poetry even to make myself capable of remembering what happened. Wisdom is neither immanent nor transcendent; it is intimate with the world and yet never mastered by it.
It’s this antiphon, I think, that inspired me more than esotericism when framing the religious worship in my ‘verse. And it was this name of God that I thought made a fitting refuge for a scarred world sickened by worshiping gods made in their own image. Silence and letting go: this is a worship so dangerous to the ego that every time we brush close, we pretend that we’ve already done it.
So this morning I made another noise generator: one that evokes a meditation hall with a storm pouring rain outside the low lintel. A challenge, to sketch out the noises of quiet prayer! But here’s the result: One Light Burning.
May your day be mightily and sweetly ordered from end to end.
The snow came as promised, and justified our book club’s decision to cancel this evening’s potluck feast. It also put paid to my plans to go to church this morning, but a couple of phone calls confirmed it was no scene I should be driving in, and whoever made it to church would fill in for my duties. So, it’s a snow day.
I went out for a walk, as one does, enjoying the hush — though the bars are still open, with the Chiefs game turned up loud as I passed them. Otherwise it’s quiet. I saw only one person walking their dog, and two kids progressing down the street toward the park with a sled in tow.
If we get enough accumulation, I’ll make some snow ice cream, because Past Me thought ahead and stocked up on Eagle Brand. But for now, I think I’m just going to make some hot chocolate and watch a cozy murder mystery. I leave you with some meditative organ music for your Sunday.
Yesterday, all plans I had were completely scuppered within ten minutes of getting up, as what appeared to be ordinary vertigo revealed itself as a full-on norovirus of some kind. I spent the entire day sleeping off nausea and a mild fever. I’m still not 100% today, but I did manage to get out and do things I needed to do. The cat food is not going to buy itself!
December 13th is St. Lucy’s Day, which is still celebrated in Sweden, I believe. It used to be the shortest day of the year — i.e., the solstice — until we changed calendars; now the shortest day of the year falls on St. Thomas’s feast day. Make of that what you will. Before the change, John Donne used the occasion to make a poem of his grief in the darkness, so I include that here.
A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day
‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s, Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks; The sun is spent, and now his flasks Send forth light squibs, no constant rays; The world’s whole sap is sunk; The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk, Whither, as to the bed’s feet, life is shrunk, Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh, Compar’d with me, who am their epitaph.
Study me then, you who shall lovers be At the next world, that is, at the next spring; For I am every dead thing, In whom Love wrought new alchemy. For his art did express A quintessence even from nothingness, From dull privations, and lean emptiness; He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not.
All others, from all things, draw all that’s good, Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have; I, by Love’s limbec, am the grave Of all that’s nothing. Oft a flood Have we two wept, and so Drown’d the whole world, us two; oft did we grow To be two chaoses, when we did show Care to aught else; and often absences Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.
But I am by her death (which word wrongs her) Of the first nothing the elixir grown; Were I a man, that I were one I needs must know; I should prefer, If I were any beast, Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest, And love; all, all some properties invest; If I an ordinary nothing were, As shadow, a light and body must be here.
But I am none; nor will my sun renew. You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun At this time to the Goat is run To fetch new lust, and give it you, Enjoy your summer all; Since she enjoys her long night’s festival, Let me prepare towards her, and let me call This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this Both the year’s, and the day’s deep midnight is.
For December 14, I give you the sort of calming entertainment that is pleasant to watch while stressed or to doze with while sick: art conservator extraordinaire Julian Baumgartner.
Check out his YT channel for more mesmerizing restoration videos, including ones without the narration in case you’re into ASMR. (Explanations of ASMR always give me a you-had-to-be-there vibe, like I don’t know if the significance of it is something I can really get. Sort of like the Transfiguration, really.)
And that’s…about all I’m up for, today. I’m seriously considering going back to bed.
I was going to be all serious and comment on Thomas Merton’s feast day, but I’m just not in the mood for that, even though I am wearing all black today. No! Instead, it’s time for novelty holiday music!
First up, Mannheim Steamroller. We kids wore out the cassette tape that this track is on, and I’m pleased to find it still entertains. Did you know that Mannheim Steamroller is from Nebraska? I learned that this summer in my online trivia league.
And next, a track that one year at least was a staple of retail stores — the year it got stuck in my head and I went looking for it to cure the earworm. It’s the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, remixed in a yes-it’s-campy-you-wanna-make-something-of-it kind of way. It’s about six replays of this between my house and fencing practice; ask me how I know.
Ah, good morning. It’s a lovely Saturday and I’m taking my sweet time about getting up and about. For today’s Advent window I bring something that has been the foundation for any number of songs for a couple of centuries now, and I do enjoy it in nearly every form. It’s variously known as “La Folia,” “Folias de Espana,” “The Folly,” and so on.
It’s St. Nicholas Day, which — aside from its associations with the Christmas season — is an opportunity to reflect on one of our tradition’s more interesting bishops. Besides resurrecting children pickled in brine and tossing dowries through the windows of young women about to be sold into prostitution, Nicholas is also said to have punched Arius at the Council of Nicaea. All of these stories are spurious to some degree or other, but you have to admit, there’s a certain swash to St. Nick’s buckle. Like, he’s the patron saint of nearly every member of the crew of Serenity, one way or another. What’s not to like?
Of course, if you’re aiming to misbehave, the early-modern and modern legends of Santa Claus are less friendly to your cause, as David Sedaris discovers in his essay Six to Eight Black Men. I do enjoy that essay, but because (mindful of St. Nick) I am moved to be generous, here in addition is David Sedaris reading my favorite of his essays, “Jesus Shaves.”
This has been your Hee-Haw Advent window of the day.
Inevitably, any Advent calendar of mine is going to contain a number of my favorite choir pieces. Here is my favorite Palestrina introit, “I Look From Afar.”
It’s part of the nature of Advent, too, that looking from afar is both looking at the past as from the far future, and looking at the future from an always-incipient present. Like gestalt arrows, it’s both at once: that on-the-cusp feeling belongs so completely to no other time.
A friend once observed of me that I want to “save the world,” and they weren’t wrong. Something in me is a perpetual paladin, and whenever I do something that matters to me, it matters because of that. Advent taps into and intensifies a feeling I have year-round, that there are lots of reasons not to act, not to do a thing — but if you’re going to do it, then do it.
I don’t mean do it perfectly, though. Long ago, a (different) friend was lamenting their depression and how it was causing them to “half-ass” their last semester of school. I said: “Sometimes half an ass is all you have,” and the other person in the chatroom suggested putting that on a cross-stitch sampler. But that’s exactly what I mean. If half an ass is what you have to give to a thing you want to do, then give half an ass.
I try to remind myself of this antidote periodically, because I too fall prey to the feeling that Advent (and Lent, too, often) got started before I was ready and I’m in a futile scramble to catch up. It’s not Fear Of Missing Out, it’s Fear Of Missing In, fear that I will have “had the experience but missed the meaning.”
But Advent is its own antidote. The answer to FOMI is to plant your feet, and your ass — whole or half — and look from afar.