...to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free....

04 December, 2011

lessons and carols

One of my favorite Christmas season events
happened today.
It takes place yearly in the Catholic cathedral in town...
a place rich in atmosphere and beauty...
a perfect setting for the Advent and Christmas stories
that are told here on this day.

A Festival of Lessons and Carols.
Readings from the New Testament which 
illustrate the story of the birth of Christ
from its foretelling to the annunciation
to the child's birth and ending with the adoration by the Wise Men.
Each lesson is alternated with a musical piece,
most of which are choral.

Our Festival is chock full of things that bring me joy.
It is a community undertaking,
the readings are comforting and magical, 
and the music is breathtaking.
The spirit of the season kindles for all who attend.
After the program ends, there are smiles
and hugs and gestures of good will
up and down the aisles.
Best,  it is a bringing together of many different Christian faiths,
all working together to celebrate one of
their central ecclesiastical themes.
The major churches in the area that have choirs  
contribute singers for this choral event.
Baptist, Episcopal, Unitarian,
Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran
...and more.
The readers are ministers and lay leaders of 
each of those churches as well.

All coming together to prepare for the retelling of a miracle.
And creating another miracle by their work together.

Although it begins at 2:45, people start gathering
at a little after 2:00.

First it is a trickle.

Then the pews begin to fill with eager anticipation.

In no time, there is a full house--
In a very large church!

Attending are babies and 90-somethings, and everything in between.

Those who come early get a chance to see a last minute
rehearsal.  Think of it--
choir members from many churches who have
each been practicing this music
with their own choir directors for many weeks--
only lately coming together with the Festival's choir director 
to make it all 'work'.
And 'work', it does!

The program starts each year with the Bell Choir.
The bell ringers make heavenly music--
each ringer has several bells that she picks up and rings,
puts down, picks up again--
hundreds of times in a piece.  
There are several sounds that come out of each bell--
depending on how they are handled and rung.
Hard to explain--but the result is ethereal.

It is very hard to take a photo unobtrusively 
in a huge church (with no flash), 
moving objects, vastly varied light.
Here's my attempt to show you what it looks like anyway. 
The yellow and red streaky things are the bells reflecting light
as they are rung.

The director of the  bell and voice choirs comes from the local
church on the hill.  He is talented
and spirited and full of grace--both spiritual and physical.
I love to watch him work.  It often looks
like he is doing Tai Chi in front of the choir.
Not in a show-off way, just very quietly.  
His back faces the assembled, but once in awhile
he turns his head just so, and one can see
his animated face, coaching and inspiring his singers.
And the faces in the choir!  And their heavenly voices!

The music soars, fills the rafters, gives me goosebumps, and makes me cry.

I wish you all could have been there.

Each Christmas Eve on NPR, there is a live broadcast
of Lessons and Carols from
King's College in Cambridge, England.
It takes place there in the evening, I believe, which puts it 
early to late morning of Christmas Eve in the States and Canada--
just about the time I am baking pies,
...and the sound fills my kitchen.
If you have never heard it, you probably would love it.
Crisp, angelic young voices with British accents.
Echoes and organ reverberations from the huge cathedral.
(If that won't put you in the spirit, nothing will.)

Catch it if you can.


  1. What a beautiful setting. Thank you for sharing!!

  2. Oh so beautiful! Your photographs and words transported me to where you were.... actually, I was in Maine for a few days.... Portland. Such a wonderful town. The weather was crisp and cool, the sky was blue... a perfect way to appreciate the upcoming winter season!

  3. i loved this post. gave me chills and filled my eyes with tears as i read it. the idea of the different faiths, their choirs, their members, all working together and coming together to celebrate is the most magical part of all. that's what the spirit of Christmas is meant to be for...

  4. We have lessons and carols at our church, and it is lovely, but not so much as I perceive this one at the cathedral there. I love the feel of inter-denominational worship with the gathering of worshippers and of singers and more. I love the season of Advent and your post and pictures and the spirit of unity brings it all so beautifully home to me. Thank you.

  5. I will definitely try to catch it. I loved your post and your photos are terrific. The event itself sounds wonderful. The sense of community must be inspiring. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

    P.S. I'll be back. I love your blog and found it most welcoming.

  6. Your photos from inside the church are so well done, Mike. What a beauty of a post. I can almost feel as if I am there.

  7. The way you described this service sounds glorious and your captures are wonderful. Thanks for that reminder about NPR on Christmas Eve, it's been a few years since I've remembered to turn it on. Now I really am looking forward to it! ~Lili