Handling The Messiah

Around this time of year, I make a point to listen to George Frideric Handel’s Messiah. He wrote this monumental piece in 1741, long before the fray of our modern monetized version of Christmas. Did you know it was first performed during the Easter season?

Written in three parts it covers the entirety of the impact of Christ’s coming. “Part I corresponding with Advent, Christmas, and the life of Jesus; Part II with Lent, Easter, the Ascension, and Pentecost; and Part III with the end of the church year—dealing with the end of time.”  Wikipedia.

When I grow up, I will study Handel’s Messiah in total.

November and December is referred to as “Peak Season” at UPS, where delivering glad tidings to doorsteps morphs into a drone-like activity. Out of 29 holiday hustles there were only two years where my heart didn’t freeze over eventually. One was when I tweaked my back and was benched during the two busiest weeks of peak. The other is this present season. This year I’m mostly pushing a broom and emptying the trash inside the building. The schlepping of parcels I mostly watch from a distance.

All this to say, a baroque, eighteenth century musical masterpiece on the centrality of Christ was almost overlooked. My heart seems more intact this year. My mind is more mindful if redundancy isn’t a hang up for you. I feel more present amidst the presents. Why did I almost dis The Messiah?

One reason is I didn’t feel the need to jump-start my heart like one of those electric paddle thingies. Maybe, unconsciously, I could Handel this season on my own power. Perhaps “Jingle Bells” was enough to fill the spiritual void. Why ruin a Bing Crosby mood drift with a classical oratorio of God’s rescue plan in Christ? Because that’s why.

I could dip my Jack Frost nipped toes in the Hallelujah Chorus and call it good.

But that aria-like symphonic anthem isn’t a stand-alone song. It’s imbedded. Simply serving the Hallelujah chorus like an entrée isn’t enough to satiate the wandering heart. One isn’t supposed to eat the Turkish Delight before slicing the ham. By that I mean there is context and history in the hallelujah.

If you’ve ever attended a Messiah performance, everyone stands for the Hallelujah chorus. It’s not because of sore bums; a seventh inning stretch of sorts. King George stood up in one of the early performances and the rest of the theatre followed his lead. The honor is due through story of Christ. The music and lyrics build a framework where the rafter lifting strength of the almost shouting of singers forces an ovation of standing proportions.

“Git yer duffs off them thar pews and honor God,” said Festus from Gunsmoke. (He really didn’t say that, but for some reason his demeanor came to mind.)

I’m sorry to be an old fuddy duddy, but when an advertiser highjack’s the most famous tune and tone to sell a pair of socks, well, darn.

Seriously though. Hallelujah! The whole of the piece challenges me to focus my attention in this world of distractions. Handel didn’t know what a sound bite was, well, besides a good piece of roast. He neither knew how pseudo-visual our world would become, despite the onset of blindness near the end of his life. He knew music and how to create a texture like a Van Gogh. Live performances are all they had back then, so the effort was directed at experience. Although The Messiah is his signature piece out of many, its depth has reached into countless souls to stir the cold places of the heart.

But not without the scriptures embedded in and through. Mind and heart. Did you know the lion’s share of verses come from the Old Testament? A few famous New Testament Christmas references are represented, including Luke 2:10-11, which Linus quoted in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Matthew 11:28-29, Matthew 1:23, John 1:29, and Revelation 19:6; 11:15; 19:16. I Corinthians 15 scriptures near the end of the piece, and the final verse being Revelation 5:12-13.

Here’s a link to all the scriptures involved https://www.toledosymphony.com/clientuploads/20192020season/TSOinHD/2020_0412_Messiah_Lyrics.pdf.

All this to say, take time to say woah to the reindeer, and if you need to ease into The Messiah, start with the hallelujah chorus. Don’t forget to listen to the other words in the chorus too. I know it’s a bit late, but maybe next year plan on going to a live performance. In the meantime, Mr. Grinch… Wait. What? For now, soak in the scriptural tunes of redirection and reflection. There’s still time. Immanuel is with us, we need only to turn our minds and hearts his way.

Let’s get a Handel on this season, eh?

NOvember 20—Deep Winter

I’m glad I’m not in Buffalo, NY.  I’m more like a Bison-stander in Oshtemo, MI. You heard me. I’m an innocent bison-stander exhaling fog and ice while dusted in snow. The snow blower I borrowed really blew. The blowback covered my mane like a mountain peak. I needed to take a break and simply poise like a hunch backed beast.

My glasses served as deflectors of the blizz thrown into the breeze. I really didn’t want to see the reality before me anyhow. My mantra of movement stalled out, so I took a break to watch Notre Dame battle Boston College; two Catholic teams fighting for the approval of touchdown Jesus. The Irish Catholics didn’t need a Hail-Mary to win, they crossed themselves over and over, up and down the field. At the half they were up 37 to ZERO.

Back to work pushing and shoving 15 plus inches of frightful. Thankful that my brother-in-law let me borrow his snow thrower after a belt on mine melted and snapped, I walked another lap. After a while I got a text from my brother.

“It’s a great game if you can see it!! The Boston College players are invisible.” Their white uniforms transformed them into ghostly figures. The snow washing them out of the camera’s ability to receive.

I, on the other hand, kept trying to gain ten yards in my driveway. It seemed like fourth and long ad infinitum. The more I pushed, the more the deep deep winter pushed back. The all-day scrimmage scrambled my will to mush instead of the “Mush! Mush!” of the Iditarod determination.

At this point I can’t even keep my metaphors straight.

I’m about to layer up again and address the accumulation. This time the roof needs relief. It seems I just got done raking leaves…now I will rake the roof. Raise the roof?!?

Let’s put the “win” back in winter, shall we?

As One Leaf Falls, So Falls Another.

Autumn has my heart, always. There’s something about a blushing tree that draws my attention. Maybe it’s emotion. Could be a touch of empathy for the forest as it strolls toward dormancy. The maples, especially, gasp with color as their breathing slows. Summer draws down. The sun flattens its course more each day and the leaves, well, they look up to the trees.   

Yeah. Beauty is fleeting. Duty calls. It’s the first time in eleven years I’ll have serious leafage. At the last house we had one small tree in the front and one in the back. The house before that had a single, somewhat insignificant, maple in the front. Leaf cleanup consisted of a bit of extra mowing.

This is gonna blow.

If I had my druthers, I’d light ‘em up where they lay, like the controlled burn on the trails around here. It’d get out of hand though. One little gust of wind and Smokey the Bear would wag his taloned digit at me while the neighbors prayed for favorable winds.

I do love the smell of burning leaves though. I wonder if there’s a ‘burned leaves’ candle scent? There is a warm tobacco pipe scented candle, of which I have two. So much easier than loading one of my own.

Leave it be.

A couple of weeks have passed and our little house in the woods appears surrounded by an arbor nudist colony. The sun makes its appearance earlier through the barren branches rather than above them.

Now, on a cloudless night, the moon floats effortlessly in and through the forest. Hide and seek is more like seek and ye shall find. Why, last night, that great warm gray disc in the sky entered my peripheral several times. In an odd way I felt I was being surveilled. Maybe it’s the sun’s way of keeping an eye on us. That’s worth reflecting on, no?

How does God keep all the balls in the air? Sun? Moon? Our Mother Earth?

Leaves. Squirrel! Squirrel in the leaves. My mind seems as scattered as the roaming gang of leaves on a windy day.

Back to the task which took four separate days. A blower and an occasional rake shooed the maddening crowd onto the forest floor. The last of the gripping oak leaves I mulched with the mower. It is finished. Maybe. I survived the first fall here without being a fall guy. The labor was not in vain as my veins felt the rush of a heart pounding a bit harder. Light aerobics might be a good description.

Now I shall take my leave.  

Cast

An undertow of tears

dragging thoughts at first,

Then emotions burst

In a tumbler of sorrow.

*

Blessed are mourns

Curled under and away.

Sit ashore with me, stay.

Let’s embrace our humanity.

*

Oh, ocean, receive our

Drops of brokenness.

And on your openness

We shall pray.

*

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” James 5:13

Sunday Psalm

Who can stop the rain’s descent,

each tear formed and sent?

The H and the 2 and the O

banded as a trinity went

*

to play on leaves hung

on the air like a lung

in the spreading tree,

stepping down, rung to rung.

*

They patter like a soft timpani

off to the edge of the canopy

shushing our soul

and healing our atrophy.

*

The showers on their way

with a pelting fray.

Come, remind us then

of morning mercy’s display.

*

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul.” Lamentations 3:22-24

Farther

It wasn’t the father

who was a long way off,

but these days it seems so.

It’s as though the sons

wandered off in search

of the father.

Prodigals go and come

from either end,

then end up wondering

in the in-betweens.

I thought it was just me,

yet, ain’t nobody perfect.

Come to think of it,

we all need to know

how to stay, not stray.

The gig is up, and

honesty has us squinting,

longing has us looking.

The father figure

has us striving to

figure out who he is,

who we are.

I heard my dad…

“I know what you mean.”

*

“And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off,

his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him,

and kissed him.” Luke 15:20

Deeper Still

Go down, step off

into the deep waters

they say…at least

they used to say.

Now we skip our

minds along the surface

hoping never to sink

into the unknown.

But is in the depths

where stillness sits

under the pressure of

context and history.

God holds my breath,

from beginning to end.

Every fear of drowning

exhaled to His lungs.

How I long to go down

Again and again–

each dive extended

in His presence.

Another Sunday

The wandering rise of morning light

Mingles in and through the crowns

Of oak and elm like broken speech.

The halting of a haunting while

This day breaks into pieces on the ground.

Light falling all around, resting on

Seemingly impenetrable surfaces.

Leave lie its’ yellow demure as it lay

in silent reflective yawns.

“Come. Recline. Bathe in my pouring.

Light loads I give you stretched

In Sabbath shine.”

The Birth of Motherhood

The first borne is a refocusing,

A wonderment which halves

Your heart in the mystery of it all.

Each half, if bonded together,

Is a doubling of your thrums,

And a healthy enlargement.

One little child is all it took.

You’re in a new identity.

We all see it, that cradling

Look you give over and over.

The center of gravity shifted,

And there you are swirling

round and round.

“What child is this?”

Is a daily question now…

Somewhat rhetorical,

Yet asked again and again

As if for the first time.

This is for all the new mothers and mother’s to be. Particularly Voilet, Kaleena, Chandra, and Sammy