Friday, December 2, 2016

Advent, Handel's Messiah, And Falalala

It's November 30th as I sit to write - the end of Autumn and beginning of the Christmas season. Just about all the trees in our neighborhood have caught the seasonal burn now and most days have enough bite to require a solid sweater. Grey mornings and evenings find our gas hearth cheerily warming eighty fingers and toes (three mini and my own stiff knuckled set), and our bits of "scheduled studies" have all been set aside to focus on the collection of Christmas books enticingly displayed on the piano and Advent.

Advent is different this year, as it is every year, but I'm learning a little more about what strikes wonder in our hearts and truly helps us celebrate, what I want to stick in the girls' hearts if even just by the repetition of it all and nothing has really appealed enough to stick. We've experimented with crafts and chocolates and books and genealogies, but this year I scaled back and just used what we already love: Handel's Messiah. Just a few tracks a day with the scripture that accompanies it, and so far it's been everything I've been looking for: simple yet thoughtful, quiet but interactive, a wondering backward look yet also a hopeful gaze forward. Sometimes we draw, sometimes we play, but most often we just sit and listen. I didn't expect the girls' to really care anything about it, but it seems like they're as interested as I am. Just today we were listening to the portion with the angels declaring Christ's birth to the shepherds and I about jumped two feet in the air when I realized Handel tried to catch their arrival and departure; "Listen!" I said, "do you hear the angel wings?" So that's exactly what the next several minutes were occupied with - us listening to the track carefully (twice!) just to catch the sound of angel wings. Even Selah stilled herself to cock an ear.

But I'm making the days sound all peace and comfort. Then again, I guess I don't really need to expand on the insanity that is the holiday season. Commercialization and political diatribes aside, the motherly perspective is enough to strike some of the "merry" from Christmas. All that tightly wound excitement winding more tightly by the day; pre-dawn mornings and post bedtime nights; trying to balance nutrition and holiday greed with heavy doses of root vegetables and scripture; bank accounts emptying into the mountains of boxes daily being dumped on the porch, all of which have to be quickly snatched and hidden away before passing less fortunates do it for you; annual winter sniffles compounded with extra indoor romping due to cooling weather inevitably resulting in a broken lamp and picture frame or two. Tis' the season falalalala.

But then, certain moments crack the fragile exhaustion of the to do's and let the joy beneath seep through. Like tonight, when all three girls fell asleep in those precariously lumped-together beds in their room, and me, right in the middle of them. To see the peace on those faces, arms thrown one over the other, curls in a mass tangle on the pillows, and restful breathing in syncopation with my own . . . any lingering irritations from the day melted to the warmth of wonder. All the tight spots in my shoulders, all the hard spots in my heart, all of me seemed to suddenly dissolve in the more awing presence of grace mysterious and golden. All was forgiven, all was at peace. I could have dissolved to tears had it not been for someone turning over, everyone stirring in response, and the moment passing. It seems strange, even to me, that I wouldn't strain to cling to what was there just a moment before, but I have tried before and discovered (time and time again) that it's just too holy for my human hands to hold. Something, perhaps, like the moment when the Shepherds heard the chorus of angels declaring Christ's birth? An indescribably wondrous moment, but when it passed, it had fully passed and there was only the echos of wonder and hope where it had once been, and that was enough.

Hmph, Shepherds watching over their flocks by night . . . mothers tending sleeping flocks of children . . . sort of similar. It seems a much more endearing season when I see it from that perspective.