How To Christmas #1: Listening to Christmas Music

I’m talking about transcendent Christmas music, not Last Christmas by Wham, which seems to come around on my car radio every two songs these days.

Songs like For Unto Us from Handel’s Messiah or Born on a New Day by the King’s Singers or Bach’s Magnificat or just about anyone’s version of Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming or Noa’s version of Ave Maria. You know, those soul songs of this season that penetrate straight through your ears to your soul? Yours are likely different than mine but you know what I’m talking about.

Find a quiet space to sit alone. If it’s noisy where you are, put on headphones. Push play. Close your eyes. Allow the music to fill every millimeter of your attention. Move your head slightly to the music, responding to each movement in the song, experiencing how the lyrics are infused with the melody, finding yourself in the dissonances and resonances between the harmony and melody.

Do that a little while by yourself and you may just be able to do it in public as well. Go to a performance of your local symphony. Attend a church’s Christmas service where there is likely amazing music. Will people look at you? Maybe. Deep down they’ll envy a person who knows how to be so present. They’ll wish their souls would be able to come forth as easily. And maybe, they’ll turn, close their eyes and soak in the moment as well.

Despite the surface glitz of this season, there is something deeper that pulses in between the jingle bells. For me, it is found in sacred music. It is in those notes that the reality of God-with-us begins to awaken my soul. I remember watching my college choir director listen to music much the way I described above. My 20 year old self would not allow such rapture. But now, I understand. Music is a thin place where we can breach the wall we have erected between us and the Divine Mystery. Listen with rapt attention.


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