Christmas Alphabet I for In The Bleak Midwinter : Shawn Colvin & Bert Jansch

We live, now, in a world where, at the flick of a switch, we can be bathed in brilliant light.

But, for millennia it was not so.

We lived in a world lit only by Fire.

Huddled in the darkness we looked with awe and supplication to the celestial lamps in the sky.

The Stars, The Moon and The Sun.

By observation and calculation we learned to predict the movements of these Heavenly Bodies (oft times believing them to be the actual bodies of the gods who bestowed the light upon us).

We came to know that there was a cosmic dance and that, magically, in December, out of the depths of darkness, the first light of the rising sun signalled rebirth for the land, the crops and for the people.

No matter how dark it gets there is hope, belief, that the light and the warmth it brings will always return.

At Newgrange, in Ireland, before Stonehenge or The Pyramids, the Ancients built a stone vault in honour of the return of the light.

In this vault, at exactly 8.58am each December 21st, the light penetrates to the furthest reaches where the souls of the dead abide.

The light comes once more to the dead.

Heaven and Earth are joined once again.

In the bleak midwinter the cosmic promise is fulfilled.

The sun shines along the passage floor into the inner chamber at newgrange during the 2013 Winter Solstice at Newgrange. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

‘First light like share-shine in a furrow

 Steadily deeper, farther available,

Creeping along the floor of the passage grave

To backstone and capstone, to hold its candle

Inside the cosmic hill. Who dares say ‘love’

At this cold coming? Who would dare not say it?’ (Seamus Heaney)

Though the frosty wind makes moan and earth stands hard as iron and though the snow falls snow on snow on snow there is an end to the bleak midwinter.

The light returns.

Hope returns.

Shawn Colvin with a tender version of Christina Rossetti’s great Christmas Carol.

Shawn lets the Mystery Be.

Now, Bert Jansch, has always been able to let the Mystery Be.

His plays the guitar in quest of the mysteries we all feel as we look up at those celestial lamps.

His genius is to conjure from six strings ancient knowings that cannot be expressed in words.

Surely among the tribe at Newgrange there were musicians and singers waiting, with bated breath, for that redemptive first light at all those years ago.

If they were able to hear Bert play now they would recognise, at once, a Brother.

The Alphabet Series continues on 13/15/17/19 and 21 December.

Don’t miss One!

 

Christmas Cornucopia : Sixth Day

Sixth Day :

A Painting by Geertgen tot Sint Jans (1465 to 1495)

A Poem by Christina Rossetti (1830 to 1894)

Music by Hildegard of Bingen (1098 to 1179) sung by Emma Kirkby and Gothic Voices, The Unthank Sisters and The Larks.

 

night-nativity

St Bridget of Sweden had a mystic vision of The Nativity.

Today’s painting by the Flemish artist Geertgen tot Sint Jans makes that ineffable vision a reality before our eyes and in our hearts through virtuoso deployment of light and shadow.

Looking at this tender scene we remember Christ’s statement:

‘ I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.’

 

Our heart stilling music today was composed by one of the most extraordinary figures of the Middle Ages (indeed of all Ages!).

Hildegard of Bingen was a Benedictine Abbess whose haunting compositions refelect her mystical experiences and her philosophical beliefs.

I vividly recall the first time I heard this music in Tower Records at Piccadilly Circus in London. As the gorgeous vocal lines enchanted me I knew, at once, that this record would be a life time companion. And so it has proved.

The majestic soprano Emma Kirkby wonderfully complemented by The Gothic Voices under the direction of Christopher Page takes us into mystical terrain where every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.

Terrain where Hildegard’s vision of herself as a feather on the breath of God makes perfect sense.

We are all feathers on the breath of God.

Now we return to our Sleigh which has been travelling for 6 days rushing towards its destination on Christmas Eve.

So, for today’s post we will apply the breaks to give ourselves and our willing reindeers a much needed rest.

Sometimes the preparations for Christmas can overwhelm us as we worry about all we have to do in such a short time. We can be in danger of falling into the trap of speeding through the season without stopping to savour its true joys and meaning.

Perhaps we should remember that at the heart of this event is a birth. A birth much awaited and anticipated by the contemporary family at the centre of the story and by the wider human family of time past, time present and time future.

At this birth time and eternity merged to create a new beginning of hope and promise for all of mankind.

Mothers have to learn to be still and patient as they wait (especially for their first birth) for the great day, the great moment, to arrive when they will no longer be a mother-to-be but a mother.

There comes a miraculous moment, a moment, when after all the waiting and worry that the baby, her child! who has been knit together in the safety of their womb emerges into the world as a unique new creation.

This is a moment for stillness and awe and for gratitude.

The next recording featured today is achingly filled with stillness and awe.

 

The Unthank Sisters from God haunted Northumberland perform Christina Rosetti’s, ‘In The Bleak ‘Midwinter’ with startling calm and grace allowing the song to breathe and bloom into something truly marvelous.

I imagine we all hold our breath throughout this performance as we are caught in the spell of the poet’s striking images and the heart piercing intensity of the siblings vocals.

Now, a recording by one of my favourite 50s vocal groups The Larks.

The sound here is hushed, seemingly suspended in time. Listening to, ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ I feel as if I were a snowflake caressed by gentle drafts and surrounded by millions of other snowflakes falling slowly, slowly, slowly to the earth below.

 

It would be perverse today to showcase any other poem but Christina Rosetti’s masterpiece, ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’.

‘Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air-
But only His mother
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’

 

Christmas Cornucopia – Sixth Day

Our Sleigh has been travelling for 6 days now rushing towards its destination on Christmas Eve. So, for today’s post we will apply the breaks to give ourselves and our willing reindeers a much needed rest.

Sometimes the preparations for Christmas can overwhelm us as we worry about all we have to do in such a short time. We can be in danger of falling into the trap of speeding through the season without stopping to savour its true joys and meaning.

Perhaps we should remember that at the heart of this event is a birth. A birth much awaited and anticipated by the contemporary family at the centre of the story and by the wider human family of time past, time present and time future. At this birth time and eternity merged to create a new beginning of hope and promise for all of mankind.

Mothers have to learn to be still and patient as they wait (especially for their first birth) for the great day, the great moment, to arrive when they will no longer be a mother-to-be but a mother. There comes a miraculous moment, a moment, when after all the waiting and worry that the baby, her child! who has been knit together in the safety of their womb emerges into the world as a unique new creation. This is a moment for stillness and awe and for gratitude.

The first recording featured today is achingly filled with stillness and awe. The Unthank Sisters from God haunted Northumberland perform Christina Rosetti’s, ‘In The Bleak ‘Midwinter’ with startling calm and grace allowing the song to breathe and bloom into something truly marvellous. I imagine we all hold our breath throughout this performance as we are held in the spell of the poet’s striking images and the heart piercing intensity of the siblings vocals.

Next, a recording by one of my favourite 50s vocal groups The Larks. The sound here is hushed, seemingly suspended in time. Listening to, ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ I feel as if I were a snowflake caressed by gentle drafts and surrounded by millions of other snowflakes falling slowly, slowly, slowly to the earth below.

It would be perverse today to showcase any other poem but Christina Rosetti’s masterpiece, ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’.

‘Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air-
But only His mother
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’