Mondays are for pining … and singing

Cross-posted from Rougher Places …

“I pine away. Woe is me!” Oh, Isaiah. I can relate.

Monday is a hard day of the week in our household; not only do we leave the weekend and Sabbath time behind, but my beloved M has to gear herself up for the weekly trek to Philadelphia and work. I make the ten-step commute to my office, stepping carefully around the yawning pit of her absence. We are well acquainted, then, with the way feelings and language can swirl around in the struggle to contain more than one reality: we are joyful in our love for each other; grieving at each parting; aware of the hardships our commuter marriage creates; thankful for the blessings of a good living; aware of the transience of that blessing; troubled by the need to do more for people who do not have enough in these hard times; tempted to be selfish about the time we do have together; concerned for our future and that of our friends and communities, on both personal and large scales.

And all that mix of joy-in-sadness-in-blessing-in-trouble is set in the larger context of a season: Advent, when we seek a mindful waiting for the Christ to be born. Which is set in the larger frame of a society caught up in year-end holiday celebrations, even as it is not sure what to celebrate and what to celebrate with.

So, that makes the strange Isaiah text of today kind of perfect. It starts out talking about the dire consequences of the choices humanity has made, and the desolation we have brought upon ourselves and the earth.

And yet, the mournful prophet says, I hear voices singing praise to God … over there. Over there, they are singing. I should probably be singing, too. “But I say, I pine away, I pine away. Woe is me!”

It’s a perfect text for a Blue Christmas service, of the sort some churches offer this time of year, recognizing that not everyone can deck the halls with a tra-la-la spirit. This year the whole church should probably be proclaiming a Blue Christmas, when we as a nation are choosing to maintain tax cuts for rich people and end relief “benefits” for  unemployed people.

Let’s have a strand of blue, then, running through Advent. Let’s hold on to that thread, in tension with what there is to feel joyful about, as well.

As I write, morning is coming. A soft blue light has edged along the pines, and is beginning to turn to gold, the light of a new day and another chance at new life. I sit, waiting, and work, waiting, and hope, waiting, for a fullness that I believe will come. As I sit and work and hope — indeed, in all that I am and am not, and in all that I do and do not — I know there is a heartbroken Love near me and within me that will never give up. And so, in the midst of our pining, sometimes our moans turn to a hum, a song that sustains.

Which reminds me of a song that perhaps should be today’s Advent hymn … “How can I keep from singing?” (YouTube has Enya’s version, Eva Cassidy’s, a slew of choirs; text follows below.)

I’ve loved this song from the first time I heard it … but I cannot remember it without also recalling the friend who hates the words, seeing in them a passivity and acceptance she cannot abide.

This is the nature of things, exactly as Isaiah says. There is life in death, and death in life; there is justice and joy in the midst of ongoing desolation and destruction. We take hold of both the threads of blue, and the strands of gold, and go on, whether singing, or hearing the far-off song. Not above the lamentations, but in the midst of them, with the Love that never lets us go.

======================
How Can I Keep From Singing?

My life goes on in endless song
above earth’s lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear it’s music ringing,
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

While though the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
And though the darkness ’round me close,
songs in the night it giveth.

No storm can shake my inmost calm,
while to that rock I’m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
how can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble sick with fear
and hear their death knell ringing,
when friends rejoice both far and near
how can I keep from singing?

No storm can shake my inmost calm,
while to that rock I’m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
how can I keep from singing?

My life goes on in endless song
above earth’s lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
How can I keep from singing?

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