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Friday, December 27, 2013

The Dream Family?

Right away we get a twist on the traditional Christmas story that we think we know, as Matthew introduces Egypt into the story. No mention of going into Egypt in Luke - you’d think he’d have mentioned it if he knew about it,  or if Mary was dictating it or something. No, in Matthew, the happy couple lives in Bethlehem - the Magi visit them at their house, not in a stable. It’s not until Joseph returns from Egypt, in Matthew’s narrative, that they settle in Galilee in Nazareth, because Herod’s son, one of the tetrarchs among whom Herod’s kingdom was divided upon his death, was as bad as his father and was tetrarch of Judea.

Another dream in this Sunday’s gospel, too. I like to think of dreams as the deserved fruit of resting, a kind of gentle escape where I can fly, play basketball, or impress Halle Berry with my witty banter. Joseph, on the other hand, gets hugely important news that he has to act on upon waking: your fiancèe is pregnant; take them to Egypt; go back to Israel from Egypt. If I were Joseph, I’d work until I was comatose. Sort of like those Halloween movies or whatever they are - it’s better not to fall asleep.

Well, this feast of the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus offers us an annual time to consider what a family is and what makes a family, or anything, holy. And we all know what that is. Not anything that we do, or think, or say, or pray, but only that God is with us. “You alone are the Holy One, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father.” Maybe that is the liturgical definition of what a holy family is: the blessed trinity. It apparently has nothing to do with who was born to whom, since born-ness is not an attribute of God. What makes the holy family holy is its surrender to that mystery, to allowing God to run its daily operation, and, of course, having Jesus as its focus and mission. As Psalm 128 says, the responsorial for this weekend, “Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.”

Strange, isn’t it, that 35 years ago after Paul VI’s Comme le prévoit we had to get accustomed to hearing the word “happy” translate the Greek macarios in the beatitudes and elsewhere in Scripture. We had in our ears “blessed,” and now we were expected to hear the word “happy.” “Fortunate” is another word often used to translate macarios. The word suggests that a person’s place in life is a source of beneficence and contentment. It may be true that “happy” is too strong a word, or has migrated from the interior to the exterior, and seems to suggest an external glee rather than inner peace. Whatever the linguistic case, with the new translations engendered by John Paul II’s 2000 Liturgiam Authenticam and its insistence on formal translation rather than dynamic equivalency, we are back to “blessed.” This word does bring God-as-source back into the picture, that whether we are happy or content or fortunate or macarios, it is God’s work that makes it so. It is also macarios that “happy” and “blessed” (often) have the same number of syllables and identical accents, so that “blessed” can, when needed, be reintroduced into musical settings that have the word “happy” in them. I’m not quite that AR yet about liturgical law. It’s more like a guideline. ☺

Music for this Sunday at St. Anne:
gathering:  God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

kyrie/sprnkling: “Angels”

glory to god: Christmas Glory

resp. psalm:  Psalm 128 Psalm for Weddings (octavo, OCP)

prep rite:  What Child Is This (or Carol of the Stranger)
fraction:  Living Stones

communion:  It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
sending forth:  Hark, the Herald Angels Sing


Of course, we’re just keeping the Christmas juggernaut rolling through this week and next. Often on this feast, we have used “Faithful Family,” a song from my second collection, Do Not Fear to Hope. Later re-recorded for Change Our Hearts, its refrain is loosely based upon Eph. 5:1 and surrounding texts, with verses paraphrasing the ancient liturgical hymn Ubi Caritas. Psalm 128 is from the same collection, later re-recorded on Cries of the Spirit, Volume 2. It is a setting I wrote for use at weddings. The verses have duet parts for mixed voices, which I thought was a nice touch for a wedding psalm, and the musical riffs between refrain and verse might suggest to the ear of pop culture the music of “Sunrise, Sunset.”

"Carol of the Stranger" is a song that we recorded first on Stony Landscapes, and then Terry redid the song on On Christmas Day in the Morning. For me, writing this song was about expressing the what's behind the tradition in the Church that marriage is a "school of love." There's a lot underneath that image, isn't there? But part of it is that everyone is a stranger to us, really. Every other person is genuinely other. We know ourselves, in a sense, so poorly that we're strangers to ourselves, and other people actually reveal who we are to us whether we like it or not. A newborn baby is the ultimate surprise, even with all the planning and waiting. One day, we are two, or one, suddenly, we're three, or two (or four, or five, or...) So the child Jesus is a stranger in the Holy Family, and has to be welcomed and attended to, served, ministered to, just like every child does in every family. The song expands that metaphor to many relationships—a new love or friend whose presence gives us hope, and makes us realize that "if two might learn giving/ Then all might be one." It also reflects on the welcoming of new people into the Christian community, welcoming the "God of mystery / Disguised on our streets" in the faces and lives of the poor and really everyone we meet. In the end, the song just welcomes the child to the cold night watch of humanity waiting to "welcome the morn."

Carol of the Stranger (GIA link has an audio preview, as does the iTunes link below)
music and lyrics by Rory Cooney


Welcome, tiny stranger, O child of desire,
Your mother has made you a bed by the fire.
Your father, amazed with relief and surprise,
Sees firelight reflect like a cross in your eyes.

Welcome, lovely stranger, whose touch has released
My soul to its quest like the star in the east.
If love be a journey to death, we've begun.
If two might learn giving, then all might be one.

Welcome, God of mystery, disguised on our streets,
Dispensing your blessing through strangers we meet
As Abram and Sara your bounty reveal:
A skyful of children for shade and a meal.

Welcome to the strangers to Christ and the church,
Who hear a new call, and begin a new search,
Whose presence reminds us that God still will free
By blood on the doorpost and path through the sea.

Welcome, tiny stranger, to hunger and frost,
To armored invaders, to paradise lost.
Come join the vigil for which you were born,
Keep watch through the darkness, and welcome the morn.
Welcome, welcome, welcome. 

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