The Messiah

Last year, I wrote a post about the reasons I love Handel’s Messiah. It’s one of the posts that was lost when I switched hosts. But again I’m thinking of this sublime weaving of art and truth, delighting in it in my kitchen, in my car, and with my children.

On Sunday, my husband was called into work before church and was there all day. He called and invited us to meet him for supper at Friendly’s, and on the way I popped The Messiah in. Just as we pulled into the parking lot, we heard, “And His name shall be called, Wonderful! Counselor! The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace! The Everlasting Father — the Prince! of Peace!” I was compelled to stop so I could throw out my conducting arm on “Wonderful!” (Fortunately, there was no one behind me.)

This was a repetition of an incident earlier in the week, when my husband was getting ready for work, and I was blasting the Hallelujah chorus in the kitchen. I was conducting with a spatula, caught in the midst of unloading the dishwasher. He burst forth in a falsetto “Haaaaaaa-lle-LU-jah!” sending the girls into gales of giggles.

It’s interesting to me that although this music is more highbrow than our usual fare, they always respond to it. That morning, my youngest twirled around the kitchen, arms spread. Sunday, on the way home from Friendly’s, my older daughter said, “We need to put this cd in and all be in the kitchen for awhile, listening.” There were questions (“Did she sing, “He shall speak peace to the heathen? Who are the heathen?”) There were aesthetic observations (on “Rejoice Greatly,” my oldest commented that it sounds like laughter — something I confess I never thought of myself. How could I have missed it? That soloist sounds like she’s laughing her head off.) There were more twirling and conducting, more failed attempts to sing along with our hopelessly couch-potato voices. I told them that traditionally, people stand for the Hallelujahs, and so there was some standing on chairs. We also reviewed the “Hallelujah” flashmob on YouTube.

It’s such deep, moving truth, set to music! Our methods of celebrating may be a little unorthodox and loose. They’re undisputably geeky as well. (I’m comfortable with my geekdom. The world needs geeks.) But The Messiah is one of the real delights of this season for me. I love the way it’s all Scripture, and the way that the repetition creates a model of meditation: a phrase or verse is sung over and over, building, as it gradually sinks in. Much of it is from Bible passages I might find inaccessible, or might read right over, if I were reading it by myself. But hearing it sung and accompanied with all the synergy of instruments and voices brings it into a whole new life.

It’s said that when someone congratulated Handel on the effect a performance of The Messiah had on its audience, he replied, “I should be sorry if I only entertained them — I wish to make them better.” I’m not sure what he would think of our antics. I’m not sure what he’d think of the sounds I heard as the girls were getting ready for bed on Sunday night — snatches of operatic trills and mundane statements delivered in the style of Handelesque recitative (“It’s time, it’s time, it’s time to brush my tee-eeth!”). But maybe The Messiah was making us better — more joyful, more animated by God’s Word, more mindful of the wonder of the Incarnation, from Bethlehem 2000 years ago all the way into our kitchen. And for that, I rejoice greatly.

Merry Christmas!

I Saw Three Ships

The girls and I read Elizabeth Goudge’s I Saw Three Ships last year for Christmas, but it didn’t wow any of us. In fact, none of us even remembered it.

This year was different. It’s a short chapter book, and we read through it in a more concentrated way than we did last year, in two sittings. It charmed us.

Here’s the plot summary from the jacket:

Little Polly Flowerdew lives with her two maiden aunts, and she is absolutely sure that something special is going to happen this Christmas. She leaves her bedroom window open on Christmas Eve, just in case the three wise men decide to come visit. When she wakes up on Christmas morning, more than one miracle seems to have taken place.

The story required us to do a little digging about the English Christmas carol, which is thought to concern the three ships that allegedly arrived at Cologne Cathedral in the 12th century bearing the relics of the Magi. A British legend that Jesus visited England as a child, three kings, three ships, and perhaps even three persons of the Trinity, are suggested and layered in this little tale. So it’s a little story with big aspirations, but somehow it doesn’t topple under its freight of symbolism.

All the verses of the Christmas carol are sung in the story, and it’s printed in entirety in the back. My youngest loved singing it. There are several versions online, and this one by Sting includes all the same verses as the version in our story book (though the wording in the third stanza is ever so slightly altered).

Merry Christmas!