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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

 

North Carolina Poets for Christmas

Sam Ragan ++++++++.+.+. (1915-1996)
Carol Bessent Hayman ++.+ (1927-2017)
Reynolds Price ++           ++.(1933-2011)
Anthony S. Abbott ++++……. (1935-2020)

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Winter Watch

In those winter fields
Where only the dead grass
Hides the movement of mice
And the loping fox long away
From hunters, horn and dog,
Walking and watching wind bend
Bare branches at the wood’s edge.
This then is the beginning,
The walk and the waiting,
Winter is a time of waiting,
The pause, the slowed feet,
The watching, the waiting.

Sam Ragan
from Collected Poems of Sam Ragan, St. Andrews Press, Laurinburg NC, © Sam Ragan 1990

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Nativity

If, when a tree falls in a forest green
There is no one to hear, is it not true
The tree still sounds its ancient shattering
Of silence as its heart is rent in two?

If no one notices the calendar,
Or decorates, or shouts a glad refrain
is Christmas lost? Will that make Christmas less
Or nullify the birthday of a King?

Deep in the secret places of each heart,
Like groves of forests, quietly aware,
we reach the coming of the Gift within
And each alone must find that He is here.

Carol Bessent Hayman
from Images and Echoes of Beaufort-By-The-Sea, © 1993 Carol Bessent Hayman

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A Christmas Night

It was a cold night
And there was ice on the road,
Our car started to slide
As it moved up the small hill,
And the headlights caught the old man
In a thin jacket
Pushing a cart filled with sticks.
There were some bundles and a package
Piled on top, and the old man
Grinned and waved at us
As he pushed the cart
Into the yard of the ligglt house
Where a single light shone.
The tires gripped the road
And we drove on into the darkness,
But suddenly it was warm.

Sam Ragan
from Collected Poems of Sam Ragan, St. Andrews Press, Laurinburg NC, © Sam Ragan 1990

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A Heron, A Deer – A Single Day

A dull tin noon and, struck down on us
From the crest of pines, a heron – the one
That’s brought me each winter solstice
For twenty-six years now whatever code

I’ve earned for the past year, need for the next:
Vast as a stork in a child’s old reader
And fierce in the head as a demon deputed
To pluck out human eyes in vengeance,
Bolt them down hot.
++++++++++++++++ Yet our two faces
Broaden – eased, assured once more
Of witness at least: our names a precise
Address still known to Guidance Central.

Midnight mist and roaring cold,
We roll toward home from Christmas-eve dinner;
And there in the glen, frozen at the verge,
A six-point buck, young in eye
And grace of joint but flat-eternal
In steady witness. We slow to spare him –
Or think to spare a soulless thing.

He spares us. Sustaining our glare
A long instant of still composure,
His eyes consume whatever we show.
Then in a solemn choice to leave,
He melts a huge body, graceful as girls,
Through two strands ov vicious barbed-wire

We pass unscathed, drive in silence
A last slow mile, then both laugh sudden
At the sight of home. Seen, well-seen
But spared to pass.

Reynolds Price
collect in Word and Witness: 100 Years of North Carolina Poetry, Carolina Academic Press, © North Carolina Poetry Society 1999

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The New Magi

It is dusk. The sun has tipped backward
behind the old town hall. Inside the patterned
windows of the church, candles not to candles
until it seems the world is only light
and festive voices singing, “Silent Night.”

Out of the dark the siren wails, once,
twice, a third time, and grinding ears
disturb the “all is bright,” while somewhere
in another town a black man in a stocking cap
folds quilts around himself to stop the night.

Out of the dark the siren wails ans somewhere
in another town a woman flushes yesterday’s news
from under the rest room door and a red-haired girl
with shrouded eyes holds out her hand
to strangers walking through the station’s

swinging doors. Where is the star that calls you,
black man? Where is the star that seeks you,
woman? Where is the star that lifts you, shrouded
girl? Walk to us, now, over the battered highways.
Walk to us slowly over the rutted roads.

Walk to the siren’s wail, and the grunting sound
of fire in the night. Throw open the church’s door.
Walk with your papers and your quilts and the sorrow
in your eyes, bringing your gifts past the carpet
of our candles to the manger’s straw. Kneel and turn

And bid us follow with our light up the long aisle
out, out into the grace of the beckoning night.

Anthony S. Abbott
from New & Selected Poems, 1989-2009, Lorimer Press, Davidson NC, © Anthony S. Abbott 2009

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In a Bus Station on Christmas Eve

There are still travelers
Even at this late hour.
A radio is playing “Joy To the World.”
They sit and stare,
Clutching packages
Wraped as they are wrapped,
With some of the corners torn

Sam Ragan
from Collected Poems of Sam Ragan, St. Andrews Press, Laurinburg NC, © Sam Ragan 1990

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Sam Ragan served as NC Poet Laureate from 1982 until his death in 1996. He had a long career in journalism at various publications and from 1969 to 1996 was owner, publisher, and editor of The Pilot in Southern Pines, NC. Sam received about every possible NC literary award, including the North Carolina Award in Fine Arts, the Roanoke-Chowan, Parker and Morrison Awards; the North Caroliniana Society Award; and has been inducted into the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame and North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame.

Carol Bessent Hayman was the first Poet Laureate of Carteret County and the city of Beaufort, NC. She was a 50-year member of the National League of American Pen Women, served as Southeast editor for their national publication, The Pen Woman, and was a member of the National Board. She was a member of the founding board of N.C. Writers Network, taught many workshops, and published hundreds of poems and five books of poetry.

Reynolds Price, a native of Macon, NC, taught literature at Duke University for 53 years and was James B. Duke Professor of English. In 1962, his novel A Long and Happy Life received the William Faulkner Award. He went on to publish fiction, poetry, essays, and plays and is equally known as the venerated educator of generations of Duke students. For the last third of his life he was confined to a wheelchair due to paralysis resulting from complications of a spinal tumor; his memoir A Whole New Life: An Illness and a Healing has been an inspiration to thousands.

Tony Abbott was a beloved professor of modern drama and American literature at Davidson University (NC). He touched many lives with his deep compassion and spiritual seeking, not only the lives of his students but of everyone who knew him, worked with him, read with him, read his work. His first book of poems, The Girl in the Yellow Raincoat, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He went on to write three novels, four books of literary criticism, and eight volumes of poetry, his last, Dark Side of North, published posthumously in 2021 by Press 53. His tenure on the Board of Directors of the NC Poetry Society has left an influence of creativity, collegiality, and craft that continues today.

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White-throated Sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis, ELKIN NC

 

The Birds’ Carol
Lyrics: Bill Griffin . . . . . . . . . . Music: Mark Daniel Merritt

Elkin Community Chorus
51st Annual Christ Concert / December 4, 2011
Director: David L. McCollum / Piano and Organ: Amy Tayloe and Amy Johnson

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By 2010 Linda and I had been singing for several years with VOCE, Surry County’s invitational chorale, directed by Sandy Beam and assisted later by Mark Merritt. Mark is a talented composer and had asked me before for lyrics. That spring VOCE had been invited to perform at Bilmore House in Asheville, NC, during the Christmas season and Mark wanted to create a suite we could debut there. The Birds’ Carol is the first of three movements in The Wanderer’s Carols. The following year David McCollum selected The Bird’s Carol for Elkin Community Chorus’s 51st Annual Christmas Concert.

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The Birds’ Carol

“Morning! Morning!” trills the lark, “The Babe brings gold to the sky!
A song of light now showers the earth, And we shall know God this day.

Now is the dawn of our new life,
And we shall know God this day.”

“This coat I wear,” caws the rook, “So black, so heavy, so grim.
Only One knows the way to make it bright – The Child who reclaims us from sin.

He lifts our burden upon himself,
The Child who reclaims us from sin.”

“Come rest with me,” coos the dove, “In this humble stable take ease.
Kings and shepherds together embrace The Prince who unites us in peace.

You make us one in all the earth,
O Prince who unites us in peace!”

“I . . . Thou, I . . . Thou,” vow the geese From dark earth to heaven above –
“May we join with Thee in a world made new; May we fly forever in love.

Give us wings of Your perfect light,
And we’ll fly forever in love.”

 

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VOCE of Mount Airy performing The Birds’ Carol, November 14, 2010, Winston-Salem First Presbyterian Church:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDPm6MYvacA&feature=related

Discussion of the symbolism of Lark, Rook, Dove, Goose:
https://griffinpoetry.com/2011/12/17/joy-hope-peace-love/

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2020-09-08b Doughton Park Tree

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Wilderness Advent
(Pisgah Stranger)
Lyrics: Bill Griffin . . . . . . . . . . Music: David L. McCollum

 

Elkin Community Chorus 58th Annual Concert
December 2nd, 2018 – First Baptist Church, Elkin, North Carolina

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This year (2020) would have been the 60th annual concert of the Elkin Community Chorus. The ensemble draws singers from towns and counties across northwest NC, rehearses for seven weeks, and gives two free concerts to the public on the 2nd Sunday in Advent. Linda and I have sung with the group for more than 30 years. We miss it. We’re listening to our stack of recordings from previous years and holding onto the hope that we’ll all be vaccinated and singing together again next fall.

David McCollum has been one of the group’s directors for more than 20 years. Several years back he asked me to write a Christmas poem for which he would compose the music. ECC debuted Wilderness Advent in 2018. Thank you, David, thank you Amy Johnson and Amy Tayloe for your accompaniment, thank you Tonya Smith, co-director, and thanks to the 90 or more of our neighbors whose voices make the waiting, the yearning, the anticipation of Christmas a sacrament.

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Wilderness Advent
(Pisgah Stranger)

A stranger here, I sleep beneath the slash of stars,
The Pisgah forest deep and friendless.
I close myself to love, my heart requires the dark;
Can night within this cove be endless?

Come, you’ve slept too long
And love grows dim.
Awaken to a song – Can it be Him?

Is it madness or a dream that seems to whisper here?
The murmur of a stream or singing?
It chants, a still small voice, I’ve nothing now to fear
For tidings of great joy it’s bringing.

Come, you’ve slept too long
And love grows dim.
Awaken to a song and welcome Him!

And now the music swells as every fir and spruce
Unloose their boughs to tell the story:
May all God’s creatures wake, hearts quickened by the truth,
Invited to partake of mercy.

Come, we’ve slept so long
That love grows dim.
Awaken that our song may worship Him.

Come sing it with the wind and all the Pisgah throng:
The Child reclines within the manger!
With owl and bear and deer my soul’s reborn in song
For none of us is here a stranger.

Come, you’ve slept too long;
If love grows dim
Awaken to a song for it is Him!

Waken . . . welcome . . . worship . . . it is Him!

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MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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[with poems by Joan Barasovska and Kathy Ackerman]

Everything or nothing. The radio is off. The screen is frozen. The refrigerator snores. The clock won’t tick any faster, any slower. In an hour we leave for Raleigh to see our grandson (backyard, distanced, masked) but right now nothing is happening

I’m no good at nothing. If I wake in the dark my brain whirls venom trying to bite its tail. Where is dawn’s blessed peace? If I take deep breaths, watch the feeder, daily agendas begin to scroll down the back of my cornea. How many seconds after emptying myself before I fill back up with everything?

We are entering the season of nothing. The azalea may feint a few off-season blossoms but will we ever bloom again? We are in the season of waiting. Where is the so fragrant earth we lost so long ago? Where is the muscle and spunk of summer that convinced us we might carry through? The season of turning. What justice like waters, what righteousness like an ever-flowing stream? When? How do these shortened days stretch so long?

In the woods, something is happening. Orchids are making sugar. How have I missed that? One species will bloom in May, the second in August, but their leaves are now. Their delicate little tenacious tough-ass corms swell all winter waiting to rocket up a spike of summer flowers into a leafed-out overshaded world.

Something is always happening. Something is deeper than those scrolling agendas. Something in the world and something behind my optic chiasm in deep matter. Something that maybe wants me to be still and notice. Something to hope for, to wait for, to go forth and meet.

There is no nothing. It’s all everything.

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These two poems are from Kakalak 2020, the annual anthology of Carolina poets. It is an eclectic volume – conversational, confessional, contemplative. Not as many COVID poems as I expected but wait until 2021.

The poems by Joan Barasovska and Kathy Ackerman speak to me of the winding thread that connects our past to our present. Knots and tangles, yes, but also a lashing to secure us in the lashing storm. The something that is happening every day is us becoming human.

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Cranefly Orchid, Tipularia discolor

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Her Breath

Mike and I exchange a glance
over her cooling body.
Our eyes are dry.
Elsie wears a faded housedress
with a pattern of flowers.
Thirty minutes ago
an aide crossed
her swollen hands.

All morning we sat waiting
while Death rattled her.
She died in the afternoon
while we were out walking.
Our mother took a slow
rollercoaster ride to this day,
dragging us with her on
every shivery dip and climb.

Back from the dead,
Mike said when she woke
from a coma, angry to find herself
in a clean hospice room.
She raged until he put her back home.
Frail, sick, ninety-three, hanging on
ten hears after Dad’s death.
She scolded me yesterday.
I was late for lunch.
I had forgotten to pick up her mail.

Their old bed had been replaced
by a narrow hospital bed
rolled in the hospice workers
while she fumed in the living room
and I boiled water for tea.
Now her jaw is slack,
her last silent treatment.
Above her head hangs
a sad-eyed portrait of me at nine,
painted in blues and grays.

Mike and I are limp with relief.
the secret of Elsie’s anger died with her,
but it was probably sadness.
We are second-generation Americans,
inheritors of the sadness seed.

This mother
lying flat between us
birthed me sixty years ago.
With her last breath,
She’s in a better place
and so am I.

Joan Barasovsaka, Kakalak 2020, Main Street Rag Publishing Company

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Adam-and-Eve Orchid, “Puttyroot,” Aplectrum hyemale

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Misnomer
for Goliath, my father

i.
This story begins when I believed every word my daddy said.
Honeysuckle, he called them, tending the cuttings
that go all the way back to Rock Creek 50 years,
Aunt Gracie’s yard in the hills where I never lived.

Honeysuckle was all I had to root me to that ancient soil,
so every home I bought I planted some
from Daddy’s supply, rooted in plain clear water.
I wondered why it had no scent, was not a vine,
was pink, for crying out loud.

Now shopping for plants for house #5,
I see the truth in 5-gallon pots before me:
Weigela.

I imagine old Aunt Gracie shooing my father away
from her quilting or canning or sitting alone.
Go cut back that honeysuckle
before it swallows up the outhouse.

Later, seeing his mistake, she didn’t correct him –
a name is just a name –
Grace just glared at tiny Goliath
so proud of his mound of pink and green
already wilting

while the roof of the outhouse
still plushed with yellow sweetness
he’d confuse for 80 years
with a plant that belongs
to the same family, after all,
but so much harder to say.

ii.
Start me some honeysuckle, Daddy, I blurt out
in one of awkward lulls.
I want to imagine his hands on the branch,
the snip of sprigs of coal country
where Gracie’s old feist
barked me all the way to the outhouse and back
when I was too small to know
how hard it is
to keep what lives alive.

Kathy Ackerman, Kakalak 2020, Main Street Rag Publishing Company

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Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.
Amos 5:24

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2019-02-09 Doughton Park Tree

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In the Bleak Midwinter

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

by Christina Rossetti

[first published under the title “A Christmas Carol”, in the January 1872 issue of Scribner’s Monthly]

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Christmas Service, Kernersville NC Community of Christ, December 22, 2019

Valeria and Andrew portrayed Joseph and Mary for their fifth consecutive year.

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. . . heaven that extends to comfort all the night . . .

Traveling by night. The way is obscure, although we still think there must be a way. The way is darkness. We think darkness is what we are leaving behind. The light of full day would blind us. We trust the small light in the moonless night, steady unflickering point that goes before us.

We think doubt is what we are leaving behind. We think certainty is something that must surely lie before us, across the desert, the impassable, the treachery. Aren’t we followers? Aren’t we on the way?

This is certainty: everything we thought was certain we have left behind us. Crowns and gold, nothing. Light and darkness, among us and in us, totality, consummation. We are breath and human and awake have seen all birth and burial merge and fall away.

Carol of the Three Kings
W. S. Merwin

How long ago we dreamed
Evening and the human
Step in the quiet groves
And the prayer we said:
Walk upon the darkness,
Words of the lord,
Contain the night, the dead
And here comfort us.
We have been a shadow
Many nights moving,
Swaying many nights
Between yes and no.
We have been blindness
Between sun and moon
Coaxing the time
For a doubtful star.
Now we cease, we forget
Our reasons, our city,
The sun, the perplexed day,
Noon, the irksome labor,
The flushed dream, the way,
Even the dark beasts,
Even our shadows.
In this night and day
All gifts are nothing:
What is frankincense
Where all sweetness is?
We that were followers
In the night’s confusion
Kneel and forget our feet
Who the cold way came.
Now in the darkness
After the deep song
Walk among the branches
Angels of the lord,
Over earth and child
Quiet the boughs.
Now shall we sing or pray?
Where has the night gone?
Who remembers day?
We are breath and human
And awake have seen
All birth and burial
Merge and fall away,
Seen heaven that extends
To comfort all the night,
We have felt morning move
The grove of a few hands.

 

 

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In the Manger

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In the Manger

They process down the center aisle
while the pastor reads the story from Luke,
Mary and Joseph, angels and shepherds,
now my grandson with a paper crown

bearing treasure to his savior;
Mary in a bathrobe holds a plastic baby
in a yellow receiving blanket
but in the pew behind me

my daughter-in law cradles
two month old Amelia, premature,
less than 5 pounds at birth, even now
just about the heft of a healthy

Middle Eastern newborn boy –
why not lay her in the manger?
For today in the city of David is born
to us all a savior, anointed one, and this

shall be the sign – we shall find
the babe wrapped in a pink blankie
and lying in a manger, and we shall call
her name Wonderful, Counselor,

Bringer of Peace, Mighty One,
and in her presence we will hear angels
singing, Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth Peace to all creatures.

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Bill Griffin
Christmas Day 2015

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MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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It’s 1975, late afternoon on Christmas Day in Aurora, Ohio at the Frenches’.  Linda and I have braved the West Virginia Turnpike in winter (Our Motto: Under Construction unto Eternity) to drive up from Durham.  My folks still live in Aurora, too (we’ll divide our time with a microtome), but right now we’re sitting in the living room with Mom and Dad French, Skip, Jill, Sue, Becky, Annie, Jodi, and several imposing snowdrifts of torn wrapping paper, eating another delicious something, and waiting.

There’s the knock.  John is here!  Hugs galore, then he sets up his screen and fiddles with the old Super-8 projector and little reel-to-reel tape player, frame by frame and inch by inch so they’ll sync when he throws the switch.  Dim the lights.  Action, sound!  Grazini Christmas.  A new tradition is born.

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How many years, John, did you make that pilgrimage to the Frenches’ to set up your projector?  Your audience gradually shrank as the sibs moved on – Minnesota, New Mexico, West Virginia.  Some years I had to work on Christmas and we didn’t make it north.  A few years ago you sent us a Grazini DVD and man, did those memories come rushing back!  Now this season I’ve watched GC twice already, once when you sent me the YouTube link and once with my Mom after showing her how to add it to her Favorites Bar.  Margaret may be getting tired of me going on and on about the amazing story boarding and cinematography accomplished by two teenagers learning on the fly.  Linda has reminded us how she had to trail you guys around downtown Cleveland all day until it was time for her thirty-second scene.  But most important, John, is the lump in my throat – I still get it during that closing scene.  Every darn time.  I know what’s coming, I can recite the dialogue, one might say the message is so simple as to be obvious, but I still choke up.

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Readers, it’s time for you to watch Grazini Christmas.  In 1972 two high school seniors, John Mlinek and Dave Prittie, made a movie with a handheld Super-8 camera, a portable tape recorder, and scissors and tape.  A hero for our time, Grazini-Man searches for the true meaning of Christmas.  The film is literally a family tradition – watch for Linda as the little old lady and her brother Skip as the blind scam artist.  Much of it is shot on location in Cleveland; that’s the real Higbees Department Store Santa (the store security guard chased them out once he figured out what they were up to).  The closing scene is set in The Church in Aurora, where Linda and I were in the high school youth group, just a block from Linda’s parents’ home.  Tradition.

How is it possible to “make” something a tradition?  The word means that which is handed down  – doesn’t that imply that a tradition must seep into you from the past, that it requires years and years of gestation before its birth?  Maybe John hadn’t created a tradition the first time he knocked on Linda’s door with his projector, but I’m willing to say that by the second time he had indeed.  I think the secret is more than the family context, the predictable jokes, the backstory.  I think this little film connects with something primal – at some level we are all of us always searching for meaning, whether we can articulate it or not.

Thanks, John.  Got to go now.  Getting ready to premier Grazini Christmas on the big flat screen.  Linda says, “Hi.”

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And there were in the same country shepherds
abiding in the field, keeping watch
over their flock by night. And, lo,
the angel of the Lord came upon them,
and the glory of the Lord shone round about them:
and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not:
for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy
which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David
a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you;
Ye shall find the babe
wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude
of the heavenly host praising God,
and saying, Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2:8-15 KJV

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Click to watch Grazini Christmas, written produced and directed by John Mlinek.

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“Like you and like I.”  True confession time: tell me there hasn’t been at least one time during the week leading up to Christmas that you could have reasonably been accused of being ornery.  Maybe in the last 24 hours even.  Heck, in the last thirty minutes.  Stuck in traffic on Hanes Mall Blvd. – Oh no, I didn’t lean on my horn.  Spouse asking for the fifth time where the wrapping paper is . . . or telling for the fifth time (these are all purely hypothetical situations, of course).  No time to relax, take a walk, look at the hundred photos you just took, write a line.  Makes me darn ornery!

“I wonder as I wander . . .”  So haunting, so probing, so true – this Southern Appalachian carol has always been one of my favorites.  When Linda sings it at church I can feel the bitter wind of Mt. Pisgah through her threadbare shawl.  The questions it raises – “If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing” – seem to pierce my heart.  What do I want?  Where can I find hope?  Or meaning?  An ornery cuss like me?

Ornery – as in grumpy, disagreeable, cantankerous?  Actually the word comes from Appalachian dialect as a contraction of “ordinary.”  Commonplace.  Garden variety.  In other words, you and me. If we’re a little cantankerous at times, well, ordinary people are like that.  The same way we are also sometimes patient with grandkids.  Forgiving of spouses.  Open to sharing our homes, our space, our selves.  Christmas has arrived “in a cow’s stall, with wise men and shepherds and farmers and all.”  Or in the case of Bon Aire Rd., Elkin, with retired chemists and teachers, psychologists and technical writers, bakers and public administrators, artists and doctors (and five dogs, all under one roof). I guess Jesus enjoys hanging out with the ornery.

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The story goes that “I Wonder as I Wander” was collected by John Jacob Niles in Murphy, NC in July 1933 from a young traveling evangelist Annie Morgan.  For all who may feel Christmas as a harsh mountain winter, I offer this poem as an invitation to awaken to a song of love, assurance, and hope.

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Pisgah Stranger
(Awaken to a Song)

A stranger here, I sleep
Beneath the slash of stars,
The Pisgah forest deep
And friendless.
I close myself to love,
My heart requires the dark;
Can night within this cove
Be endless?

Come, you’ve slept too long
And love grows dim.
Awaken to a song –
Can it be Him?

Is it madness or a dream
That seems to whisper here?
The murmur of a stream
Or singing?
It chants, this still small voice,
I’ve nothing now to fear
For tidings of great joy
It’s bringing.

Come, you’ve slept too long
And love grows dim.
Awaken to a song
And welcome Him!

And now the music swells
As every fir and spruce
Unloose their boughs to tell
The story:
May all God’s creatures wake,
Hearts quickened by the truth,
Invited to partake
Of mercy.

Come, we’ve slept so long
That love grows dim.
Awaken that our song
May worship Him.

Come sing it with the wind
And all the Pisgah throng:
The Child reclines within
The manger!
With owl and bear and deer
My soul’s reborn in song
For none of us is here
A stranger.

Come, you’ve slept too long;
If love grows dim
Awaken to a song
For it is Him!

Waken . . . welcome . . . worship . . .
It is Him!
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.

Bill Griffin (c) 2011

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Every Christmas for almost thirty years, Linda and I have sung with the Elkin Community Chorus.  This year marked the 51st annual performance of the Chorus, originally founded by Fran Greene, currently directed by David McCollum, and open to all comers . . . that is anyone who wants to commit every Thursday night to rehearsing Christmas anthems beginning way back in October.  Gets you in the spirit early!

This year’s Chorus has been a special joy for me for many reasons, but one is that David selected a piece by me for us to perform.  In 2010 my friend composer and director Mark Daniel Merritt asked me to write lyrics he could work into a Christmas suite for our semi-pro choral group Voce.  We premiered The Wanderer’s Carols last Christmas at Biltmore House, and this year on December 4th one hundred of my friends and neighbors in the Elkin Community Chorus sang the first movement, The Birds’ Carol.

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The Wanderer’s Carols
Music by Mark Merritt Lyrics by Bill Griffin
[copyright 2010]
Movement 1
The Birds’ Carol

“Morning!  Morning!” trills the lark,
“The Babe brings gold to the sky!
A song of light now showers the earth,
And we shall know God this day.
.    Now is the dawn of our new life,
.    And we shall know God this day.”

“This coat I wear,” caws the rook,
“So black, so heavy, so grim.
Only One knows the way to make it bright –
The Child who reclaims us from sin.
.    He lifts our burden upon himself,
.    The Child who reclaims us from sin.”

“Come rest with me,” coos the dove,
“In this humble stable take ease.
Kings and shepherds together embrace
The Prince who unites us in peace.
.    You make us one in all the earth,
.    O Prince who unites us in peace!”

“I . . . Thou, I . . . Thou,” vow the geese
From dark earth to heaven above –
“May we join with Thee in a world made new;
May we fly forever in love.
.    Give us wings of Your perfect light,
.    And we’ll fly forever in love.”

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I’d like to share some thoughts about the background of these lyrics:

The Lark   –   Joy

In England the Sky Lark is known for its towering display flight, greeting the morning with loops and aerobatics, all the while filling the sky with its exuberant warble.  A fitting welcome for Christmas and the newborn Babe!

Our own North Carolina Meadowlark also sings a welcome to light returning to the earth   –   its melody seems to chant the words, “Spring of the year!”

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The Rook   –   Hope

Every one of us encounters darkness during our lives; there is no one that does not shoulder some burden.  The Rook proclaims hope in the coming of the Child who will take our burden upon Himself.  The One who can bring light into our darkness.

The English Rook is first cousin to our American Crow, both of them highly sociable and intelligent creatures.  If you’re smart, you know you must look beyond yourself for the hope of salvation.

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The Dove   –   Peace

The Dove has symbolized God’s promises since ancient times   –   picture the bird clasping an olive branch as it returns to Noah and the wanderers.  Today there is no more universal image of peace than the Dove.  In this verse, the Dove affirms that the peace of this Prince is promised to all people of whatever station in life, exalted or lowly, king or shepherd.  If we are to be united in all the earth, it will only be through Christ’s peace.

The Rock Dove is native to England’s cliffs and coasts, but after being imported to the new world it has become ubiquitous wherever there is human habitation   –   we call it a “pigeon.”  From the eaves of an abandoned building, doesn’t the sound of that cooing evoke peacefulness and home?

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The Geese   –   Love

Next time you hear a pair of Canada Geese flying overhead honking back and forth (the male perhaps slightly lower pitched than the female), imagine that they are not only calling to each other but also to their Creator   –   “I, Thou . . . I, Thou.”

For me these Geese are a powerful symbol of love.  They mate for life and may live twenty to thirty years in the wild.  They constantly watch out for each other.  They protect their goslings most ferociously.  And when I hear their call through the trees at dusk, it reminds me that the love of our Creator surrounds us and lifts us up.

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If you would like to listen to the choral group Voce performing The Wanderer’s Carols (with harp accompaniment and boy soprano), please follow these links:

THE WANDERER’S CAROLS

1 – The Birds’ Carol

2 – Beside the Manger

3 – The Wanderer’s Prayer

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