Monday, December 8, 2014

A Chant Sublime

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

For most of my life, I’ve believed in God because I believe in love as a transcendent notion, within our vision but beyond our comprehension, like a light in the distance from a boat in the ocean. Love cannot be dissected or broken down into chemicals or syllables. In truth, all emotions seem like magical and miraculous entities to me, which is probably why I majored in psychology in college: I was sleuthing out what seemed one of life’s bigger mysteries.

Their old familiar carols play

For most of my life, I’ve believed in (an admittedly-skewed notion of) Heaven because it seemed like the ultimate expression of love, a place where all are welcome, where all are together, where all are happy in a way our earthly bodies and minds cannot ever be. Whatever love we know or have known, now matter how it may have buckled our knees and boggled our minds, most of us get the feeling that it’s still an emotion filtered through a glass, darkly. Most of us feel like our attempts at love are inevitably flawed. A perfect thing imperfectly carried out. We have some sense of what a better love would be, but most of us never quite seem to know how to get there and stay there.

And wild and sweet the words repeat

But for all that gushy talk, the punches to the gut keep coming. The bad news, the anger, the injustice, the misanthropy aimed at one or another segment of our brothers and sisters. Even as I sit conveniently on the sidelines, rarely if ever the real target for this tsunami of animus, these endless waves that keep crashing into our shores and leaving destruction in its wake. We try numbing ourselves to it. Many of us succeed. The rest of us wrestle with despair.

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Interwoven in my mind with the names that have become part of the recent injustice zeitgeist -- Michael Brown, Jackie the UVA student, Eric Garner -- is a video I saw posted last weekend on Facebook. A congregant at a black church filmed a group of women doing a sort of lip-sync dance routine to Beverly Crawford’s “He’s Done Enough.”

And in despair, I bowed my head

The song is simple enough, really -- If the Lord never does another thing for me, He’s done enough -- but listening to that song, loving that song, inspired me to do a little research on the “negro spirituals” with which I’ve become familiar in my life. It’s not a long list, really, but it’s four or five dozen songs, and so many of them dig from that same well of gratitude, of knowing there’s something better coming, of believing that there’s a great gettin’ up morning somewhere over the horizon.

There is no peace on earth, I said

I’ve always said I believe in God because I believe in love. But maybe, as all the spirituals hint so well (when they don’t say it outright), I’m desperately hopeful that justice will have its day.

For hate is strong and mocks the song

Our world is so unfair, so unjust. Hell, we don’t even know if and when an injustice has occurred or to whom half the time. Has the world been unjust to the UVA members of Phi Kappa Psi? Has it been unjust to Jackie, whose story might be inaccurate in detail but true in every point that really matters, whose life is now under a microscope only because she took what seems to have been a leap of courage and not some grab for attention?

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Michael Brown and Eric Garner never found justice, so we are left to hope they get another shot at it in another life, in a better place. As a race, African-Americans have spent a majority of their existence forced to believe there’s something else, an afterworld, a chance at never-ending happiness, where you can always see the sun… day, or night. (Sorry. I went Prince.)

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep

I want for them, and countless millions of others, a second chance at reparation. For them I want not love so much as justice. Not justice in the form of burning all the bad people in some eternal hellish punishment, but justice in the form of not being treated so horribly, so unjustly on this earth.

God is not dead nor does He sleep

Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold. Too many humans want justice served the same way, with righteous anger, with venom. Too many see justice simply as "someone must pay for this." It's such a myopic way to think of justice. Crippling, really.

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail

What I want when I look to the sky for a higher power is justice in the hands of a being who knows far more than what we are capable of knowing, who metes out justice through an unfiltered capacity to love and forgive, who seeks first and above all else to heal what is hurting us.

With peace on earth, good will to men

Sing for peace on earth, good will to men. Not because we believe it can happen, but because the song needs to continue despite what we know about ourselves, because we must rage, rage against the dying of the light. Call it justice, or call it love. There’s a God out there who’s going to give us another shot to do this whole Love One Another thing better. The best do-over ever.

A voice, a chime, a chant sublime

I’ll keep singing and listening to the songs of others. I’ll work to savor the beauty and kindness around me. The right will prevail. Not my right, or your right. A right that surpasses our understanding, that is more than is dreamt in our philosophy. A right so right that the darkness shall not overcome it.

Of peace on earth, good will to men

1 comment:

Robert Berman said...

Great post, using a great song from a difficult time in the life of our nation. The two songs that come to mind, resonating with your thoughts, are U2's "Peace on Earth" ( and Andrew Peterson's "After the Last Tear Falls." (