Yesterday, I attended a “Christmas Collective” hosted by my church at the San Diego Convention Center. The event included a marketplace for the common good and an extraordinary concert that has left me so moved, I’m still thinking about it this morning. 24 hours later.
For me, a very personal part of this experience was seeing two women who I am very close to up on the stage. One singing. One dancing. These two women are in My Group, and we have been a part of each other’s stories, leaning into our creative callings, leaning into the artist within, for years.
Last week I watched the most recent Project Runway Allstars episode and when Jeffrey was eliminated, he said something simple and profound. “Here’s my advice to all artists: work on finding who you are.”
These two beautiful women have been in the trenches of finding who they are and have inspired me on that same path. I know what it took for each of them to be up on that stage yesterday—five very small children between them, two of whom are still nursing, just months old. I know the insane amount of logistics they had to juggle in order to get out the door and get to rehearsals and be there yesterday in great glory.
And here’s the thing: they were spectacular. In a transcendent, holy way. They brought Christmas—which can remain a date, an occasion, an event—to our souls. The message became inescapable.
Wanida played the piano and sang “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” which was originally a poem by Longfellow. He wrote it after losing his beloved wife in a fire and hearing the news of his son’s injury in the Civil War. He wrote because he could finally hear hope ringing through the air, even after all that he had lost. Even after.
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Erica danced these words into our eyes and onto our hearts. She brought them alive with longing—the intersection of hope and heartache. She made us feel our own “even afters.” Wanida, continued, building:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.
In the 1800s, when Longfellow and the other “Fireside Poets” were writing, the world was on its ear with disease and war. My mom sent me the beautiful poem by Longfellow’s contemporary, Lowell, “The First Snowfall” telling the story of the first snow after a father had buried his daughter, the “noiseless work of the sky” covering her grave so they could no longer see it. Loss shrouded in beauty.
These were the times.
Not unlike the world 2000 years ago. Not unlike the world today.
Needing something to come to us and change the story, to show us how beauty could possibly come from ashes, to show us who we really are.
I was reminded—through gorgeous movements of artistry—that we still sing today, as all hearts and souls have sung since time began: “O come, O come, Emanuel.” We need you in this very moment today as every heart has always needed you. We need your exquisite beauty.
I am struck, even in this moment, by the power of art and beauty to heal us. How words and melodies and movements can awaken a deeper part of us. Longfellow and Lowell, Wanida and Erica. You and me, too. Allowing ourselves to step out of our heads and into our hearts. Allowing whatever we’re carrying to be met with the transcendent, “deep calling to deep,” and believing that God’s story is THE story of unending redemption.
Let’s let the beauty in. Even just a tiny bit. And then a bit more. Letting Christ come to us. Allowing our ears and eyes to be awakened, so that we might hear the bells.
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.