Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Troll the Ancient Yuletide Carol – 2014

I live the days of my life inside a great, cosmic wheel – a crystalline sphere, to be more truthful, although the dome above arches too high for my gaze and the curve below lies too deep for my understanding. And so I breathe the air on my tiny ecliptic circumference. Once per year my wheel rotates by the push of its angel, and month by month I pass through scenes on its inner rim, thematic but with yearly variations. I spend the spring months in regions of pastel colors, of budding trees and rain showers. Scholars wearing black robes and wide flat hats march by as the pastels become saturated. Then I often travel through the lazy summer months in a car past landscapes not seen around home. In the autumnal months, new young scholars crowd into view before the spinning wheel takes me through hillsides of trees turned gold through the Sun’s Midas touch and red through the crisp kisses of the chill, dry night air.

Air rises to take the place of the leaves, and the annual cycle next brings on familiar winter scenes. And for one blessed season, past the curls of visible breath, the lights, the bustling shoppers, the aroma of hot cider, the sound of carolers, and a bewhiskered Victorian man surrounded by a ghostly circus of Victorian characters, rises an evergreen forest, and in the dark, hushed wood stands a window in the wheel’s rim, a lens, ground and polished into the crystal by centuries of conciliar theology and homely custom, a precise convexity, solid and smooth and almost invisibly clear. I walk through the living boughs, new snow crackling with every step, and gaze through the lens at the stars of the Outer World, receiving by direct sight what I fathom only abstractly through most of the year. One tiny star shines more brightly than the sun, and its golden beam, piercing my chest with a cheerful pain (the good kind of pain, like the dull sting of a massage on tense shoulders), connects me with my distant Home and fills me with good will and the determination that this time round I will finally honor Christmas all through the year.

I go back to the carolers and hear them sing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” I smile as I think that all of the aspects of this song that mystified me as a child make me love it now: the minor mode, the ancient cadences without leading tones, the high concentration of multisyllabic words, the roll call of mystical names of Christ, the use of the subjunctive in the phrase “until the Son of God appear.”

In this pass along the sidereal circuit, I have been reading (a reading about) the O Antiphons and their connection with this most solemn of Christmas carols. Listening to the Gregorian chant brings the words to life: the Latin text moves me even more powerfully than the English translations. The metamorphosis of the chants into the carol has brought many adjustments to the words and so many musical changes as to make the two tunes almost completely unlike one another. But the hymn preserves the solemnity of the original plainsong in its exclamation “Rejoice! Rejoice!” by applying somber minor chords to the echo.

And, lo! the wheel spins on. The spruce and pine needles tickle and prick my skin as I walk out for a last look through the glass that clarifies all my vision for a time. O, come, Thou Dayspring! And from my final connection with the Great Star, I receive the nourishment needed to begin another sojourn through the calendar and garner the store of light whose glow, refracted through my rough, angular soul, will yet resolve the figures of the next forty-eight weeks.

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