Sunday, December 25, 2011

Four Corners, One God

Christmas, to me, has always been about the music. Well, church in general. God is in the music, as far as I'm concerned, in the music and in nature. So to find God within a beautiful church or cathedral, I have to find Him through the music.

Have you heard the Quempas Carol? When I think of Christmas music, this is the carol that best shows me God, the carol that we grew up singing every year.

This example is the original version, by Michael Praetorius, in Latin. We grew up singing this carol in English, however, a version arranged by David Cherwien and published by MorningStar Music. Try listening and reading this translation, simultaneously:

He whom shepherds once came praising,
Awed by heavenly light ablazing,
Cheered by angel news amazing:
"King of glory, Christ is born!"

These four stanzas were sung by the children's choir. We would be split into four groups and post at the four corners of our big, beautiful sanctuary. Wearing our musty blue robes, carrying lit candles and a little strip of paper with the words of all three verses of our stanza on it, we turned to the congregation and sang. The organ accompanied us from the choir loft. The four corners were lit up with our young voices, with the words of good news, with our energy, with the face of God shining through us. Christmas is about a baby, a young child, and here we were, reminding the congregation of that through our youth.

The adult choir took over on the next part:

The glorious angels came today,
Aglow with light into the night of darkness deep,

And the entire congregation would join in, shaking the soaring ceiling beams (or so it seemed to an 8-year-old me), with:

God's own Son is born a child, is born a child;
God the Father is reconciled, is reconciled!

While the adults sang, it was our job to process, slowly, in a clockwise fashion, to the next corner of the sanctuary. The side-to-side shift was fairly straightforward. At the front of the sanctuary, try not to giggle. At the back of the sanctuary, exit the door into the vestibule, giggle as you dashed across, then compose yourself before entering the door on the other side, back into the sanctuary. The back-to-front/front-to-back legs were a little more treacherous, however. Remember those lit candles? Not only did you have to process steadily, yet decorously, it was also important to protect that little flame from drafts so that your candle would still illuminate your face (and your strip of paper) at the next corner. That, and the walk was about three times as long lengthwise in the sanctuary. Phew!

We would sing the second verse, one stanza from each group of children at the four corners of the church, and then it was off again, on the slowest race in the world, to the next corner, meant to represent a corner of the world as a whole. Keeping our eyes on our candle flames, trying to look serious, trying not to trip over our own feet, and keep one eye fixed on the group across the church from us, making sure that we were all moving at more or less the same pace. It took all of our childlike focus to do this properly, but it was important. It still is important, to me. This is how I found God, as a child. This is how I connect with Him, this is a large part of our relationship. The devil may be in the details, but God is in the music. Soli deo gloria.

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