O Holy Night

O Holy Night

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.

~ O Holy Night

2:40 on Christmas morning, but since we haven’t been to bed yet, for us it’s still Christmas Eve. This post, then, is short because between the hour and the amount of sugar and cognac in my veins, short is all I can do.

Tonight at mass, a young woman gave us the gift of her music: O Holy Night as a trumpet solo.

It was lovely and haunting, and even if a couple of her notes were wobbly, Christmas magic made her horn sound angelic.

It reminded me of another rendition of this carol, a carol I could never wrap my head around, until suddenly I could.

Enjoy:

Link (for iOS users):
O Holy Night – Studio 60

Mulled Wine, Magic, and Dylan Thomas

Ornament and Cinnamon

“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”
~ Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales

Has anyone ever been more descriptive than Dylan Thomas? I just introduced a friend to Thomas’s brilliant book-length poem A Child’s Christmas in Wales and as I was reading it aloud, I found myself falling in love with the language all over again.

My first introduction to it was most likely via a reading on KPFA or some NPR station, but the first encounter I remember is when I was eighteen or nineteen. A friend had gifted me with tickets to the Christmas Show at a winery in Los Gatos, so my mother and I went.

The room was freezing, the crowd dressed elegantly beneath their coats and hats. Gloved hands clutched cardboard cups of coffee, cocoa, mulled wine.

We sat on chairs arranged on risers, and watched the show – a combination of the Thomas piece, “The Little Match Girl,” excerpts from “Anne of Green Gables” and the “Little House…” books, and some original transitional bits – that should not have worked as a single coherent story, but somehow did.

At the time, Dylan Thomas’s Christmas contribution was the only part that I wasn’t already fond of, didn’t already have a connection with.

But how could I not be?

Has another poet captured December any more vividly – especially December in a small coastal town? I think not. Sure, Robert Frost wrote eloquently about snowy woods, and Lucy (Maud Montgomery) and Laura (Ingalls Wilder) both touched upon the winter holidays in their books, but for the most part, their language was plain, simple, matter-of-fact.

Thomas captures our imagination. Thomas’s December, Thomas’s Christmas is made of imagination, memory, and mulled wine. It’s cinnamon and chocolate, cigar smoke and scary perfume.

When Thomas writes, you can feel the chill wind, and hear the crunch of snow under your feet, even if you’re reading him in a cozy, warm, well-lit kitchen in suburban Texas.

It’s been an ordinary day, with a few special moments – cuddling dogs, sharing brownies and coffee with friends, making homemade chicken soup because all of us have the traces of a cold.

But the fifteen minutes I spent reading A Child’s Christmas in Wales were made of magic.

I hope this sort of magic never leaves me.

* * * * *

Image credit: nilswey / 123RF Stock Photo

Pay No Attention to the Chipped Nail Polish

coffee cup ring Pay no attention to the chipped nail polish evident on my pinky. Instead, pay attention to the ring. My ring. My wonderful, silver, steaming-coffee ring.

I’d seen it on Facebook months ago, as had my mother, but had no idea where to get one. Imagine my surprise when my mother, grinning in that gushy way that only mothers can, presented me with a wrapped box on Christmas morning. “What does the card say?” she prompted, unbridled glee evident on her face.

“‘To my favorite coffee companion,’” I read aloud. Coffee has been a ‘thing’ for my mother and me ever since she would spoon a couple of teaspoons of her coffee into my milk on special mornings. These days our coffee dates are mostly virtual, because of geographical limitations, but no less special.

I opened the box, as I always do, with efficient ripping of paper. I will never be one of those people who saves every precious piece of tissue. (Except, well, this year I did make people return their tissue, since I had to throw away all the old tissue I’d used to wrap my ornaments after the horrifying mildew incident.) I believe wrapping paper is meant to be ripped. It’s even better when you get to hear that satisfying tearing of the paper – tissue doesn’t make that sound half as well as sturdier paper.

Inside a bag, inside the box, was this ring. A ring I’ve secretly coveted for months. A ring I never expected to find on Christmas morning.

“I love it,” I told my mother. “Where did you find it?”

“I saw it on Facebook,” she said. “And a friend knew a jewelry maker, who made copies.”

“Isn’t that illegal?” I asked, not that I had any intention of returning the ring.

“Actually,” my mother said, “it’s not. You can’t copyright design.”

So, pay no attention to my hands that were badly in need of moisturizer and a warm mug to hold, and look instead at the awesome gift I got, one among several awesome, special gifts, of which the greatest was sharing the holiday with family.

Pay no attention to the chipped nail polish either (I haven’t had TIME to get a mani-pedi in forever.)

Instead, pour a mug of something warm and tasty, and join me in toasting the people you love.

Human Moments and High Percentage Choices

Blue Christmas

Sometimes leaving all of your visiting family at home and heading out to midnight mass is a high percentage choice.

2:00 AM. Christmas Morning.
We arrived home from the late service at St. Alban’s at the Theatre just as the rain was beginning to fall, and the thunder and lightning hailed our arrival even before the dogs started barking their greeting. (The last three words are unofficial, and I add them here simply because, to me, the fact that this church meets in a theater is somehow appropriate. Theater celebrates words, and church the Word made flesh, and yes, my metaphor needs work, but really, how lucid are YOU at this hour? And besides who’s to say a theater is any less sacred a space than the Of-the-Meadow or In-the-Woods spaces we’re accustomed to seeing?)

If I had to pick one word to describe my feeling at the end of this “midnight” mass, it would be the one I used with Mother Melanie: satisfying. Just as a really good meal leaves you neither still hungry nor over-stuffed, so, too, does a really good church service. And tonight’s service, while a little unconventional, was really good. Really…satisfying.

I think what I responded to the most were the human moments. Tonight’s service was mostly a cappella, and before the actual mass, there was a time of carol singing, led by the clergy sitting at the foot of the stage, asking for the congregation to choose the songs to be sung. (My favorites are not easily sung unless you know them – “Once in Royal David’s City,” for example – so I didn’t make suggestions – but I was silently thanking previous choir directors (Clyde Putman, Glorian Mulligan Stratton) for their attention to sight-singing and a cappella work, because while I “know” most all the songs we did tonight in the caroling and during the Eucharist, some I’d only ever sung alto on, and one was completely unfamiliar.)

But in addition to the singing, there were other human moments, like watching three young men (young enough to retain traces of childhood in their faces) singing “O Come All Ye FaithFul,” or listening to a guitar duet of “Silent Night,” or a delightful Oboe solo. Or even the moment when a phone went off and it turned out to be Mother Melanie’s own. After watching UUCOC move from a church full of such moments to one where even applause was discouraged, and people were required to “applaud” in ASL, it is these moments – spontaneous applause, appreciative chuckling, reverent irreverence – that really make a church feel comfortable to me. I like the ritual of high church, but I like the ease that comes from accepting that we are all human, all flawed.

I guess these moments sort of make me feel like God is the Ultimate Improvisor, and that when we allow ourselves to simply BE we are playing along in the grand game of “Yes, And.” (Lately, everything has come back to improv for me, which is weird, because I haven’t actually DONE any formal performances in well over a year.)

So, yes, I like this St. Alban’s-at-the-Theatre immensely. AND I got to do one of the readings tonight, which was almost like a Christmas present because I’ve always wanted to do that. AND I got to sing with Fuzzy in church tonight, which is another thing that always makes me feel grounded and centered. AND the people in this congregation are so warm, smart, funny and engaging that we hung out til one AM chatting even though we meant to linger for only a few minutes (AND they sent me home with leftover wine). AND I want to go back.

I’m never sure if God has a specific plan for me, or not. (See that bit about improv, again.) I’m still learning how to discern that still, small voice inside myself and, even more, to actually listen to it.

But as we drove home, I realized I felt completely at peace and connected with the world. True, a good part of that feeling was Christmas magic, but an equal measure was the result of feeling like I was answering a quiet call.

Whether it’s playing a specific character on stage, or feeling the click of satisfaction after mass, going with your gut instinct is usually a high percentage choice. And those human moments? They’re just another kind of Truth, and the best comedy – the best ART – always comes from a place of Truth.