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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Advent 4A - All in a dream, all in a dream

Call to Worship: He Will Come (Bell, GIA) Gathering: Canticle of the Turning
Psalm 24 (alt ref – Let the Lord enter) Cooney - OCP
prep rite:  Lo How a Rose
communion:  Walk in the Reign
sending forth:  O Come, O Come Emmanuel

There’s a lot of dreaming going on in the Bible, isn’t there? My daughter Claire is a big believer in dreams. She used to write them all down in notebooks (maybe she still does!), even when she woke up in the middle of night, at least to remember them to write them down later. Her song lyrics in our collaborated collection Keep Awake are full of dream imagery; one of the songs is even titled “Jerusalem of Dreams.” Claire used to think she could manipulate her dreams, tell them how to come out, even figure out what to dream about. I wish I had had this gift growing up; I would have spent much more quality nocturnal time with Katherine Ross and Olivia Hussey, and less with the likes of Dracula and brain-eating secants and cosines. I suspect, though, that dreams might be more revealing when we don’t manipulate them, when we let them talk to us, rather than talking to them. I suppose that, either way, it’s a conversation with the subconscious. My current megalomaniacal morphean manifestation is the recurrence of conversations with celebrities in my dreams. I’ve had conversations with entertainers like Prince and Sting, but more memorable ones, driving in limousines through Washington D.C., with both Bush 39 and 41, Gerald Ford, and Bill Clinton. Amazingly, in my dreams I found the Republicans to be friendly, articulate, and affable. Prince was funny, describing to me a song he was writing about being abused by a priest as a child. He wasn’t even bitter about it, he just wanted to sing his song.

This morning's first reading (Wednesday of 3rd week of Advent) was about a heavenly visitor in an annunciation to the unnamed mother of Samson in the Book of Judges, and the gospel was the annunciation to Elizabeth. Sunday we hear the annunciation to Joseph, again in the context of a dream. There are other famous dreamers and dreams in the bible. My favorites include the dream of Jacob when he wrestles with the angel (Gen 32) and again when he sees the ladder and builds the shrine at Bethel (Gen 38). The dreams of Pharaoh and the oneiromancy of Joseph that he parlayed into a dream job in Memphis. Isaiah’s dream of the court of Adonai, with winged seraphim melting into a lake of fire. But my absolute favorite is Peter’s dream in the house of Cornelius in Acts, with the floating picnic and God telling him to eat anything he wants, and not to argue with Him because He was God and knew what was clean and unclean. Dreams abound, and they teem with meaning.

One song I've used in years past on this 4th weekend of Advent in year A is the relatively ancient “Cherry Tree Carol,” an English Christmas song that might be as much as seven hundred years old. Even though at the height of the folk revolution it was recorded by the likes of Joan Baez and Peter, Paul, and Mary, I never knew of it until I came across it in the Marty Haugen collection Night of Silence that GIA published about 20 years ago. My children’s choir had done “Power in the Children” from that group of songs, and we had borrowed a nice little ritornello from “What Child Is This” for our arrangement as well. The choir enjoyed singing “Child of Our Dreams,” too, for a few years, so I was paging through it to see if there were any other ditties we might use. I have to say, who wouldn’t pause, however briefly, when running across a Christmas text like this:
When Joseph was an old man, an old man was he,

He married Virgin Mary, the queen of Galilee,

He married Virgin Mary, the queen of Galilee.

And one day as they went walking, all in the garden green

There were berries and cherries as thick as may be seen

There were berries and cherries as thick as may be seen

Then Mary said to Joseph, so meek and so mild,

“Joseph, gather me some cherries for I am with child,

Joseph, gather me some cherries for I am with child.”
The Joseph flew in anger, in anger flew he,

“Let the father of the baby gather cherries for thee,

Let the father of the baby gather cherries for thee.”

Then up spoke baby Jesus, from within Mary’s womb,

“Bow down, ye tallest tree, that my mother might have some.

Bow down, ye tallest tree, that my mother might have some.”

So bent down the tallest tree to touch Mary’s hand

Said she, “Oh look now, Joseph, I have cherries by command.”

Said she, “Oh look now, Joseph, I have cherries by command.”

This simple reshaping of the gospel is so full of really identifiable human feelings that it caught my attention immediately. Paired with a simple folk melody, it’s really irresistible. Of course, you do have a little problem with a small group of folks who will not be able to suspend their disbelief for a few moments to imagine a great saint like Joseph, foster-father of the messiah, having a moment of anger when discovering his betrothed was preggers. In other versions of the song, Joseph asks the trees to bow down, or “Joseph was a young man,” or a voice from heaven tells the trees to bow down. So goes the oral tradition, especially over seven centuries and two continents. There is also some background for the story in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew in the apocrypha, chapter 24, during the flight into Egypt, when a weary Mary needs food at an oasis, and the baby Jesus commands the date palms to bow and give her fruit.

In order to allay any fears about the orthodoxy of the text, I added a couple of verses at the end of my own, though one of them is based on material in other versions, in which Joseph repents of his anger:
Then came to him an angel while Joseph did dream,

Saying, "Put away your anger, All is not as it may seem."

Saying, "Put away your anger, All is not as it may seem."
Then Joseph said to Mary, “O what have I done?

For the angel came to tell me you are bearing God's Son.

For the angel came to tell me you are bearing God's Son.

Thus, the oral tradition of the Christmas narrative continues. Talk to you again soon.

Got any cool dreams you want to share? Except Claire...give us the Reader’s Digest version of a dream - there are bandwidth issues. ☺