|The Christmas tree at First Baptist Church in Bettendorf, Iowa. Photo by J. Berta|
Yesterday afternoon, a group of us gathered at The First Baptist Church in Bettendorf, Iowa for a recital. My daughter, Cassie, and her friends, sang a number of seasonal and traditional songs. It was held at 4:00 p.m., well after the sun was in full retreat against the western horizon.
I had been working all day for one of my part-time endeavors and was still in "work mode," sending final texts before it started. Before the recital started, I snapped the picture of one of the church's Christmas trees. The lights in the church were down and I thought it was a wonderful and fitting backdrop for this event.
Speaking of, it was a wonderful recital. The performers sang without a microphone and the only accompanying instrument was a piano. I remember sitting there and being so in awe of the amazing talent of these young people. At one point in the recital, the accompanist played the last note of the song after the performer had finished singing and I was caught up in the moment of that final note. The note lingered, but for a moment, as if it was the only thing of consequence in the room, in the world. It reminded me of a snowflake falling, an individual and beautiful thing, then vanished against the backdrop of millions of other snowflakes gone before it.
The beauty of the recital was clearly in the music. However, in looking back on it, there was another aspect to it that added to its meaning, at least for me. It was simple. Not flashy, not loud, not commercial, simple. It was simple in that it had only what it needed: Talented performers, caring instructors (and thanks again, Mrs. Lyons and the accompanist, forgive me, your name escapes me) an appreciative audience and a forum that was perfect for this event held at the ideal time of the day. By the second song, I had put work out of my mind. (Now that's a gift!)
I love holiday music. My favorite collection is of George Winston's piano solos, captured on the December CD. It's over 30 years old and I look forward to hearing it every year. The music is at times comforting and also at times mildly melancholy. It is consistently beautiful.
I have it in my iTunes collection, yet there is something additionally special about holding the CD, looking at the artwork on it, and playing it thru my computer speakers. I wonder if it is the nostalgia of the experience that makes it more meaningful than scrolling thru just another playlist. Whatever the reason, it resonates with me.
|My copy of George Winston's December CD, photo by J. Berta.|
For me, this time of year is a LOT of fun. Yet it can also be stressful. From deciding what presents to purchase for others, to whether have a party (and when and what to serve and all that goes with it) and what pictures will make the cut for the gift calendars, it can be overwhelming. Then, there is all the other "stuff" in the world. ISIS is still with us, plying their trade of barbaric mayhem and death. The presidential primary season is shifting into high gear and with it comes the bright lights and blaring (and sometimes ugly rhetoric) sounds. There will be 40 (I believe) bowl games and they already have begun. Lots of things to grab and hold our attention, at times by the throat.
As one who is particularly susceptible to "bright shiny objects," this can be a trying time of year. So when I have moments of less noise, less glare, I try to appreciate them. Maybe this is a by-product of more grey hair, but as I get older, I do appreciate, cherish even, such moments. For example, last week, I was the last one up and I snapped a picture of our lit Christmas Tree and electric Menorah. It was, for me, a perfect way to recall the unique holiday experience in our home and the gift of its simplistic beauty.
|Our home, on the last night of Hanukkah. Photo by J. Berta.|
David Brooks wrote in his recent book, The Road To Character, about St. Augustine and mused on the subject of grace. I am going to paraphrase here of what I recall Brooks discussed about this man and this subject. It goes something like this: Grace is not something you can earn. It is not like winning an election or a sports championship or some other award. Grace cannot be achieved. Yet grace is also something that has to be accepted, willingly, consciously. In about an hour, I'll go to sleep. I'll take in a bunch of oxygen without thought or submission. It will simply happen. Not so with grace. You have to accept it.
As I think back on yesterday's recital, of sitting in the church, of hearing young people of different backgrounds, cultures, religions and experiences sing against a backdrop of a softly lit church, I believe I experienced a most sincere form of grace. As much as I like the December CD, it is something altogether more meaningful to hear music performed by others live, especially your own daughter and her friends.
It was a moment where light and song, luminaria et sonum as they say in Latin, united in perfect amount and gave the holiday season, at least for me, a perfect meaning. True, it was only an hour, yet that hour was enough. I did nothing to earn this experience and was grateful to have it presented to me.
It was truly a moment of grace for me and I'm glad I got to experience it. I hope you all can have similar experiences this holiday season. You might not know when they will happen but you're surely know when they are upon you. Accept them, for they are truly precious gifts.
Be well my friends,