Thursday, December 11, 2014

CAROL : the coventry carol

When Herod the king had heard these things, 
he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.



So many of my favorite Christmas songs are in the minor key -- I realize that looking at these songs standing all together. 

I don't formally follow the Advent schedule but there is some deep psychological wisdom to that progression.  To jump from everyday life into jubilation is a recipe for the kind of overindulgent excess that leaves too many of us feeling tinselly and tawdry and bloated with emptiness come Christmas morn.  I need the inner pilgrimage through these songs of yearning and desire, through mourning and awe so that I can come through to the light of that morning as from a cave.

The point of Christmas is not simply that a dear little Babe was born with beautiful golden-voiced angels strumming their harps and singing about peace.  It's that the dear little Babe and the golden angels happened in a world where soldiers slaughter babies and hatred rings so loud you cannot hear your heart cry out in anger and grief.  There would be no News! News! (which is what Nowell means) if peace were already on the earth and good will to men was happening already.

The point is that there is nothing much we can do against Herod the king and his raging.  We keep trying, we keep failing.  War and riot keep breaking out despite all our years of practice.  This rage and hate is the very reason why the Baby came,  to teach us the better way by walking through it Himself, to show us how it can be done, to fix what we have broken and keep breaking.



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

CAROL : i wonder as i wander

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.




This is the first carol I consciously chose for myself.  

Growing up, my favorite thing to do at Christmastime was to put on the big, rings-of-Saturn, shimmery black record of the Tabernacle Choir Christmas carols, setting the weighted needle down precisely and gently and then lying down beneath the Christmas tree and look up through fragrant branches full of light to see a score of tiny shiny-eyed Emma J's reflected back at me in the dangling red and gold baubles.  I loved the joyous and happy songs of Christmas, but when I was in middle school and bought a Christmas album at my neighbors' garage sale and first heard Barbra Streisand sing this melancholy song my heart leapt from me.  It was summertime.  It didn't matter.  This song caught something important to me about Christmas.

I do wonder how God chose to come the way He came?  He must have wanted the messy, more difficult route.  He certainly seems to prefer that way over and over.  He could have done things differently -- more tidily, with less slippage and less peril.  Less heartbreak and heroism, less hatred, less choice.

So there must be some salutary virtue in all these hills and headwinds.  Or maybe it's the breakdowns and the banding together that matter more to Him than any arrival or achievement.

This carol asks of me the same silent and receptive contemplation that I heard later in Walt Whitman's poem:

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

CAROL : Jesus Christ the apple tree

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.



I love this carol.  Whether deep and meditative as above. 

Or in sprightly boys' voices as below.  It's the words more than the tune perhaps, though I love the reverence and passion with which Lee Farrar Bailey sings above and I think Elizabeth Poston's arrangement is particularly lovely sung by choirboys -- so very British and well enunciated.   I am glad for both these singings of what is a very satisfying salvation poem:

The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green.
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the Apple Tree.

This beauty doth all things excel.
By faith I know, but ne'er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

For happiness I long have sought
And pleasure dearly I have bought
I've missed of all but now I see
'Tis found in Christ the Apple Tree.
  
I'm wearied with my former toil.
Here I shall set and rest awhile.
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.

With great delight I'll make my stay
There's none shall fright my soul away
Among the sons of men I see
There's none like Christ the Apple Tree.

I'll sit and eat this fruit divine
It cheers my heart like spiritual wine
And now this fruit is sweet to me
That grows on Jesus Christ the Apple Tree. 

Its fruits doth make my soul to thrive.
It keeps my dying faith alive.
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.




I would so much like to know the folk-poet who made these lines.  Likely, he (she?) wrote them as a meditation on the Song of Solomon's second chapter:

As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, 
so is my beloved among the sons. 
I sat down under his shadow with great delight, 
and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He brought me to the banqueting house, 
and his banner over me was love.

Stay me with flagons, 
comfort me with apples: 
for I am sick of love.
I love the image of Jesus as the renewed and renewing Tree of Life whose branches make a shady resting place and whose fruit revives. I feel weary, too, with fruitless, former toil and want to make my way to that steady trunk beneath the leaves where I can throw myself down and be remade.

Christmas for me is all about the overturning of a curse, an upturning of everything that had been going down.  All our expectations are undercut -- the Great King is a little baby, born not in a marble hall onto silken sheets but onto golden straw and a stable redolent of the animals who made space for Him.  He was not met by the princes and statesmen, but simple shepherds and foreigners who have studied the stars and come from afar.  And so the apple that in Adam and Eve's hand meant sin, in the hand of Jesus now means salvation.  And He offers it to us.  It is because of this carol -- and all that lies behind it -- that I always have apple ornaments on my tree.

Even better than the Elizabeth Poston arrangement to my ears, though, is Jeremy Ingalls'  -- I'm partial to the shape-note / Sacred Harp style singing anyway, but in this case this backwoods style fits the message all the better:




I love the cidery twang of this arrangement. Notice, it's more properly "set and rest" not "sit" and note the rough rhyme between "my former toil" and "and rest awhile." 

This is not some pampered orchard scion, carefully espaliered and behind tall and heavy walls, where only the gentry may partake.  But a vigorous wildling, miraculously sweet, whose broad branches offer refuge accessible to any, bowed down with reviving fruits for the many upon many.

Monday, December 8, 2014

CAROL : down in yon forest

And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? 
Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.



In the Book of Revelation, John describes his vision of
a woman clothed with the sun  
and the moon under her feet, 
and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: 
And she being with child cried, 
travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.

This woman is threatened by a terrifying red dragon.  She gives birth to a baby boy.  She flees into the wilderness where she's given eagles' wings to escape the flood vomited by the dragon to try to sweep her away.  I don't know any absolute clear historical scriptural referent for this woman variously (and convincingly) interpreted as Mary, the nation of Israel, or the Church.  By variously, of course,  I mean contentiously, as in "exhibiting an often perverse and wearisome tendency to quarrels." Symbolism seems to have this effect on the zealous.  Sadly. 

Because symbolism is powerful: like fire, giving off smoke and leaking light no matter how tightly you try to contain it.  Poets trying to capture the numinously luminous supra-historical hyper-definition reality of God come to earth will resort to the most potent light-leaking language at their disposal.  That powerful language, written in smoky light, is symbolism.

It's in that light that I read this carol.
Down in yon forest there's stands a hall
The bells of paradise I heard them ring
It's covered all over with purple and pall
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything

In that hall there stands a bed
The bells of paradise I heard them ring
It's covered all over with scarlet so red
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything

At the bed side there lies a stone
The bells of paradise I heard them ring
Which the sweet virgin Mary knelt upon
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything

Under that bed there runs a flood
The bells of paradise I heard them ring
The one half runs water and other runs blood
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything

At the bed's foot there grows a thorn
The bells of paradise I heard them ring
Whichever blows blossoms since He was born
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything

Over that bed the moon shines bright
The bells of paradise I heard them ring
Denoting our Saviour was born this night
And I love my Lord Jesus above everything

Another version changes Forest for Valley and includes a useful introduction:




Contentious interpreters may argue that slapping on a Christian refrain to every verse does not a Christian carol make.  These contention-mongers are the nieces and nephews of the grumpy exegetes who complained a few generations back that the dragon of Revelation, aka Job's crooked serpent, aka the leviathan Isaiah describes: 
the Lord . . . shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent,   
even leviathan that crooked serpent; 
and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea
is really just a plagiarism from Babylonian mythology.  Certainly, those of this ilk could trace elements of this haunting carol back to legends of the Fisher King -- but as the intelligent BBC discussion makes clear, it would be premature to simplistically discard this carol as some shallow Christian reworking of pagan symbols.  In the first place, despite its bad press, pagan means only "of the peasantry,"  "of the countryside" -- the stories everyone knows, the symbols that resonate with the common person of the time.  And secondly, the language of symbol is a dynamic language -- that means it's a living and self-defining language, always redefining itself.  The ancient Hebrew poet-prophets would have understood that as well as the medieval and freshly Christian poet-troubadours. 

"Down in Yon Forest" is a folk version of the carol, having trickled down through history, each generation licking at it, changing it and reshaping. It was recovered in Derbyshire by Ralph Vaughan Williams in the early 20th century.  Here is an earlier incarnation, collected and written down by an enterprising Renaissance grocer George Hill.  It's known as the Corpus Christi Carol, but called "The Hern" (or heron) in this recording:





I have no trouble seeing the interlace of countryside images with Christian ideas as something beautiful.  The weaving of the best we had with the best we have with the best we hope for -- it makes a particularly beautiful golden braid.  Why insist on seeing the Christian conversion of old stories as plagiarism or corruption or appropriation or opportunistic exploitation?  Don't all who approach the manger try to bring the best they have to lay at the Holy Child's feet?

Of course, all our gifts are incommensurate to the greatest Gift.
Of course, all our symbols are written with muddied water, smoky light.

In any case, there is something hauntingly lovely about this constellation of songs.  And before I begin to sing the songs of jubilation -- the Nowells! the Rejoices! -- I want to acknowledge the regenerative and sacrificial atonement that is the root of all the joy of the original Nativity and which this carol brings freshly and sharply, with mournful awe and uncomprehending gratitude, to my heart and mind.




Because would not a medieval poet,  contemplating the birth in Bethlehem, have found new illumination satisfyingly dawning within the old old story of the Fisher King who required a pure-in-heart seeker to ask, "Why are you wounded?" before the countryside could be regenerated.  

Doesn't our King of Kings, Fisher of Men, require pure hearts to seek before we can find, to ask so that we can receive what is Given and thus be reborn, regrown and newly abundant?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

CAROL : what wondrous love is this

 But God, who is rich in mercy, 
for his great love wherewith he loved us,

Even when we were dead in sins, 
hath quickened us together with Christ, 
 (by whose grace ye are saved;)

And hath raised us up together, 
and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:

That in the ages to come he might shew 
the exceeding riches of his grace 
in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; 
and that not of yourselves:  
it is the gift of God:



I am not serving these carols as well as I wish.  Though dwelling on them, dwelling in them, through this month is doing me such good.

All this month I am listening to carols at the start of my day.  Not as background to gingerbread and sparkled ribbon, but right in the foreground.  I'm listening so much more carefully and when I close the computer and head out to the rest of my life, I go singing.  Singing in my heart, or under my breath, or bursting loud, while the lights blink red to green, while the hot water splashes into the sink and steam rises up against the foggy kitchen window.

When I gathered with some friends this past evening to practice The First Nowell, that gathering together to sing felt so good.  Something that even the best recordings can't reproduce.  Our voices mingling, all of us breathing in and out together like some many-hearted, multi-legged organism.

One body.

Which we are, despite the rifts of opinion that divide us.

To which, even in this fractured age, the Christmas season still allows us public access.

The other day I was in the grocery checkout, enjoying the friendly talk ahead of me between a customer and the checkout clerk conferring over a recipe. "When are you in tomorrow?" said the customer, obviously a stranger to the clerk, "I'll bring you a piece, if it turns out."  That desire to break bread together, to be no longer strangers.

When it was my turn, the clerk accidentally included the sack of potatoes behind my small purchase.  We corrected the mistake, laughing -- "Though that would be a generous thing to do!" I said.  Then bent over my wallet, returned to the stream of carols playing within me, and reconsidered, "Why not?" 

The woman behind me said, "Oh, no.  That's not necessary."  

I turned to her, elderly, of limited means, a little weighed down with everything, "Please," I asked her and our faces opened to each other like flowers opening to light. "After all, it's Christmas.  When do I ever get to do this?" 

And she nodded, "Thank you then," with such a graciousness.

All day I felt the gift of that grace.

What wondrous love is this, O my soul! 
What wondrous love is this
that caused the Lord of bliss
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul.


When I was sinking down, sinking down,
when I was sinking down
beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.


To God and to the Lamb, I will sing.
To God and to the Lamb 

Who is the great “I Am,”
While millions join the theme, I will sing.


And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free, 

I’ll sing and joyful be
and through eternity, I’ll sing on.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

CAROL : o come, o come, emmanuel

And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name 
JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled 
which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, 

and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name 
EMMANUEL, which being interpreted is, God with us.





I have listened to this and watched this over and over with no words to add, except amazement that all that fulfillment of prophesy, all those years of yearning (Simeon!  Anna!)  should be answered and contained in such a vulnerable form: all that power bound by sensitive skin, all that creative might carried on a frame that knelt in the dust with an outcast people, sat in the sunshine with them, broke bread with them, and all that He would do held inside a young-faced mother's arms, the hopeful promise of His Life contained in a moment of His mother's glance.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny ;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o'er the grave.
Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav'nly home ;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

O come, Adonai, Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.


O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.


Friday, December 5, 2014

CAROL : mary did you know?


But Mary kept all these things, 
and pondered them in her heart





And may I go and do likewise. Pondering the things matter most.  Keeping these things close until my heart knows what Mary knew:

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
      For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: 
for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
      For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
       He hath shewed strength with his arm; 
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
       He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
      He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

Even in all her keeping and quiet pondering there were aspects of her Son that surprised her.  She wondered at Him staying behind to talk with the temple scholars.  Did she necessarily understand why He needed to leave the carpenter's shop and His family's daily concerns to wander the hill and cities, teaching?  Did she understand why He needed to get involved with the Roman overseers?  why He needed to die that way?

And I - though I "know" these things, do I know them? 

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy 
would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy 

would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your Baby Boy 

has come to make you new?
This Child that you delivered 

will soon deliver you.
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy 

would give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy 

would calm the storm with His hand?
Did you know that your Baby Boy 

will walk where angels trod?
When you kiss your little Baby 

did you know you kissed the face of God?
The blind will see.
The deaf will hear.
The dead will live again.
The lame will leap.
The dumb will speak
The praises of The Lamb.

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy 

is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy 

would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your Baby Boy 

is heaven's perfect Lamb?
The sleeping Child you're holding
is the Great, the Great I Am.










Thursday, December 4, 2014

CAROL : if it be Your will

because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; 
he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, 
to proclaim liberty to the captives, 
and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;   

 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord
  




Isn't this a carol?

This is the carol of the broken world, pleading for the New Birth to send down Truth that will flow through all the dried up riverbeds and re-echo from every hill.

This is the carol the shepherds and outcasts sing, the millennia of Come, O Come, Emmanuel, sung right up until the angel song finally answers with Gloria.

This is the carol still sung by all us lost children, in our rags of light, crying to be swaddled and held to the heart of Love.

Because this is the song we can hear echoing from the broken hill of Calvary where the truest Voice sang If it be Your will and let at last all Your praises ring, it was that Voice that made all things well, that threw open the prison doors to spill mercy on all those burning hearts in hell

because he hath anointed me 
to preach the gospel to the poor; 
he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, 
to preach deliverance to the captives, 
and recovering of sight to the blind, 
to set at liberty them that are bruised, 

 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.


Isaiah sang this song and Luke after him and Peter sang:

 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, 
the just for the unjust, 
that he might bring us to God, 
being put to death in the flesh, 
but quickened by the Spirit:

By which also he went and preached 
unto the spirits in prison;
 Which sometime were disobedient, 
when once the longsuffering of God waited 
in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing . . .

And I, too, now want to sing  -- if it be Your will.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

CAROL : riu riu chiu


To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, 
that I should bear witness unto the truth. 





I cannot get this carol out of my head.  

I've loved it for so many years without knowing what the words mean, buying CDs just because they had this carol included.  I heard it first on my public radio station and only caught the repeated refrain of the title, so for years I've sung along in a kind of riu-riu-chiu nah nah nah nah-nah, dutta dutta duh-duh duddadudda duh duh RIU-RIU-CHIU!
Riu-riu-chiu the riverbank keeps,
as God from the wolf keeps our lamb.

The rabid wolf wants to bite her
But Almighty God knows to defend her
He made her impervious to sin
Even original sin this Virgin did not have.

He comes to give to the dead life
and comes to repair the fall of all.
The light of day is this Child.
He is the Lamb of whom St. John spoke.

This One who is born is the Grand Monarch,
Christ, the Patriarch, clothed in flesh.
We have redemption from Him making Himself small.
Himself limitless, limited He made Himself.

Usually this shepherd's song is performed with a main voice singing clear and brave, unaccompanied until a catchy medieval drumbeat leads forth a glorious splashing froth of several other voices foaming up around the solo voice at the refrain.

Even without knowing the words, the close rhymes have always enchanted my ear.  Every version I've heard I've loved, but I have to say hearing the lines pronounced by someone who can sing Spanish and give each word the richness of the world's most beautiful language -- and do it so earnestly and richly as this young man -- increases the beauty of these lines ten-fold.  Listening I think I can catch an echo of a young Catalan shepherd singing above the roaring of the river, beneath the twittering call of the kingfisher.


Because riu-riu-chiu is a bird's call (some say the nightingale -- because I think: when in doubt, assume the nightingale).  Some also say it's the call of the shepherds, clucking at their flocks, steering them from danger.  But I'm going with the evidence (including the kingfisher call in link above) (including the kingfishers' habit of standing sentinel high above riverbank before flashing forth and down to catch a fishy dinner) that argues the bird in question is the kingfisher. 

And isn't it delightfully apt that just as in Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem, "As Kingfishers Catch Fire," where
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: 
. . . 
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, 
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

so too in this sixteenth century villancico, probably written by the Catalan poet Mateu Fletxa el Vell (Mateo Flecha el Viejo, or Matthew Feathered-Arrow the Elder), the call of the bird is its name -- as if we were to say Cock-a-doodle wakes the farm at dawn and Hiss-hiss slips secretly through the grass and Baa-baa feeds in green pastures, so Riu-riu-chiu guards the riverbank.



It only adds to the delightful aptness of it all that this bird's self-naming call means exactly what it is.  Riu (which after all sounds like rio) is Catalan for river.  I can't discover what chiu means in Catalan, but in closely related Portugese, chiou means "hissed" and chio means "squeak" which suggests a short, high-pitched cry (take your pick: peep, cheep, squeal, tweet).  So the riverside sentinel is also the river itself,  guarding its own bank with a sharp high cry, incarnated in the bright-winged bird in heaven's blue.  

I suspect this doubling may have been the very symbolism Old Mateo was after to describe his understanding of the unified tri-part Godhead and the wonder of the Great Creator descending into His own creation which the carol makes explicit in a later verse:

El quera su padre hoy della nascio
Y el que la crio su hijo se dixera.


He that is her Father is today of her born
And He of whom she is the child is called her Son.

I don't think it's a coincidence that the kingfisher is the ordinary bird is also the river is also a picture of Christ's incarnation.  Or as Gerard Manly Hopkins already wanted to tell us:
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
But, wait . . who is influencing whom here?  Is Old Mateo fletching his song's arrow with shimmers of light he heard Hopkins sing? or is it the other way around? or have we entered one of those folds in the fabric of space that the powerful black holes of symbolism allow us to enter? as T.S. Eliot describes:
After the kingfisher's wing
Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still
At the still point of the turning world.
Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness
And I am only on the first line of this carol.




Maybe a whole day I could spend, unpacking the interwoven lines and images. 

Tracing the interlinking rhyming pattern that picks up half-line rhymes like some kind of musical interlace decorating a page of the Book of Kells   . . .  which, I hadn't realized until just this very minute searching for an example to show you, has as its most famous page the illuminated letters Chi-Rho:

 

which coincidentally (or not) sound not unlike Riu-chiu and which coincidentally (or not) are the first two letters of Christ's name and the opening words of "The Word Made Flesh", or as described in today's Independent:
One of [the Book of Kell's] finest pages illuminates the Gospel according to St. Matthew, chapter 1, verse 18. The Latin verse begins "Christi autem generatio sic erat" – "this is how Christ came to be born". The page dwells almost entirely on the name of Christ, or rather on its traditional abbreviation into the "Chi-Rho" symbol (say it kai-roe).  Chi and Rho are two letters of the Greek alphabet, the first two letters of "Christ".  . . .
In this illumination the Chi is the dominant form, an X with uneven arms, somewhat resembling a pair of curvaceous pliers. The Rho stands in its shelter, with its loop turned into a spiral. There is also an Iota, an I, the third letter, passing up through this spiral. All three letters are abundantly decorated, their curves drawn out into flourishes, embellished with discs and spirals, filled with dense tracery and punctuated with occasional animals and angels.
But put like that, it sounds as if the letters came first and the decoration after. The three letters, though visually distinct, are nowhere just letters. They have been shaped with a view to the patterns they will be part of, and they are themselves filled and formed by ornamental elements . . .


I begin to suspect that in a hundred days I would not exhaust this carol and its interwoven currents of meaning.

Better to enter the carol whole -- that place of miracle where
Yo vi mil Garzones que andavan cantando
Por aqui volando haciendo mil sones
Diciendo a gascones Gloria sea en el Cielo
Y paz en el suelo pues Jesus nasciera

I saw thousands of Boys that were singing
Flying around, making much music
Telling the shepherds, "Glory in the Heavens
And Peace on earth for Jesus is born. 


Where it doesn't really matter if the Boys are Herons or the Angels of the various translations (garzones is modern Catalan for "waiter," garsa is "heron").  Or maybe they are all the same: flying boys, servants of God bringing the gospel feast to the table, familiar riverside birds, all part of a miraculous creation, centered on, radiating out from the miraculous Creator of miracles, our Saviour Jesus Christ:


Todos juntos vamos presentes llevemos
Todos le daremos nuestra voluntad
Pues a se igualar con nosotros viniera


Let us all go together to present Him gifts
Let us all give our wills to Him
Because He made Himself equal to us.


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