A Christmas hymnsing

Confession: I never, ever get my fill of the Christmas carols. For this reason, one of our new favorite-of-favorite holiday traditions is inviting friends in for a hymn sing.

Each year, our local community enjoys a Christmas concert at 4:00 on a Sunday afternoon—and we’ve found that in the evening afterwards, very few of our friends have other plans made. We’re already dressed up and in the mood for joy. It’s the perfect time to get together.

hymnal - Silent Night

We borrow Songs of Faith and Praise from our church house, and The Mennonite Hymnal from our sister church; and we ask my dad (who is good at things like this) to bring along lesser-known sheet music for us to try.

Then we line up two very capable babysitters to entertain our 15-20 kiddos upstairs, with books and games and child-friendly food.

And then—we sit in the living room and just sing.

And sing.

Partway through the evening we break for food: this year, a build-your-own taco bar with lots of fixings.

taco salad

It doesn’t all go as planned. My boys throw hissy fits about sharing their Legos. I later vacuum chip crumbs from every corner of my upstairs. And when we try to finish the music with a rousing rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus, we can’t remember where to go, and get stuck in an endless circle involving “King of Kings” forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever—And so we end the evening hunched over my very quiet laptop instead, listening to Christopher Hogwood’s chorus perform it, so at least we can get the final chord Exactly Right.

But oh, it is JOY!

I love to see the bright faces of family and friends. I love the way the children glow over the fun they had. Most of all, I love the beauty of a dozen or more full voices blending together in worship of a newborn King, and in friendship with one another. This is the part I long to come back to each year. Glorious!

*****

Where do you sing the songs of Christmas? Which carol do you love best?
And if you are local and wish you were here, tell me! I’d love to include you next year…

Communion Sunday

Confession: I love communion. I wish we had it every Sunday like Catholics. The Lord Jesus is everywhere in our world, and touches us in a million different ways; but I like to think there are a couple of places He will never miss, a couple of intimate graces that always lead straight into His heart.

Part 1: A Recipe

unleavened bread

Unleavened Bread

  • 1 cup wheat flour
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ½ cup sugar or honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup milk or cream (more as needed)
  • 2 tsp oil

Mix dry ingredients together. Mix wet ingredients and stir into dry, adding a little more cream as needed. Do not over mix. Knead briefly, like biscuit dough. Roll or pat to ¼ inch thickness on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Score into squares with a pizza cutter. Prick each square with a fork. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Brush lightly with melted butter and bake 5 minutes more. Remove from oven and brush again lightly with butter. Cut into long rectangles while still warm.

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Part 2: A Song

Almost every time we take the Lord’s Supper together we sing this song, which is almost a chant.

by Christ redeemed

from Songs of Faith and Praise

I love it, especially the last verse in which we become a link in a long bright chain–uniting His dark betrayal night with His final coming. He said He wouldn’t taste the juice of grapes again until He tastes it new with us in the kingdom.

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Part 3: A Magic

Confession: Sometimes I am bored with church. I can be cruising along one Sunday after another, especially in the winter, thinking We are a mess. I mean really. How can God stand us? I can’t even stand myself.

And then one day, unexpectedly, the magic will come back. I don’t know why. It may be seeing a youth girl leading music up front. It may be watching my son do the same, for the first time in his life. It may be that particular worship song with almost unbearably intimate words, still falling short of describing Christ as Lover, and suddenly my face is flaming and I am feeling public worship for the first time in months.

It may be the snack afterwards, and the one really significant conversation. It might be the almond-date-coconut balls, sweet in my mouth. It might be the pretzel bark. It might be the chemistry in the group of ladies. It might be that baby who grinned at me. It might be the phase of the moon, for all I know or care.

But the magic is back and I welcome it with open arms. I finally get it: He’s here.

We can talk all we want about the glory days, the Moses days, the Paul-and-Barnabas days. We can talk about the Reformation days, the Menno Simons days, the meeting-in-secret days. We can talk about the Andrew Jantzi days, the big-tent-revival days, the hitting-the-sawdust-trail days. We can talktalktalk. But unless we know He’s here, right here—in my outskirts-of-town-half-renovated-almost-too-small-already church building on a Sunday morning—in my sisters-in-the-chairs-about-me and my brothers-with-all-their-faults-around-me and my little-children-going-to-learn-the-lessons-I-heard-years-ago—church is just another thing to do.

People, He’s happening here, in our time.

I wish there were Big Magic every Sunday; but maybe there is, and I miss it. Sometimes it takes a fresh voice to point it out. The breast cancer survivor. The wild, destructive preschooler calming down into a functional, happy first grader. The young man turning his back on a selfish, immoral life and declaring publicly, “I have decided to follow Jesus!” The 87-year-old woman losing everything in a house fire, and coming to church praising God through her tears.

His Spirit is alive and well, and there’s no place I’d rather meet Him than here.

I’ve often wondered if the unforgivable sin, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, is nothing more or less than discounting His presence. But it’s not so. Nathanael thought He was a joke and Peter thought He was a ghost and Mary took Him for a gardener—and He loved them and led them anyway, and gave them another chance; I know He has mercy on me.

So I show up again, and watch for the fire to descend. Communion Sunday, it always does.

Lord, open my eyes.

*****

Related post: Communion

The Lost Dogs sing a song that says all I just said, better. Read the lyrics here.

Where do you find Him on Sunday?

On child prodigies

Confession: I have edited and re-edited the draft for this post multiple times with a view to make it gentler, but instead, it comes out bolder and more passionate each time. I will stop now before it gets worse!

I guess I need to admit I care about the issue more than I thought… and risk looking like a fool. Here I stand upon my soapbox.

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I’ve been listening to Jackie Evancho a lot lately, enjoying her lovely soaring mature voice, startling from such a little body.

I’ve been listening, and feeling an unexpected sense of rising distress.

Can you tell me what her parents and coaches are thinking, giving a nine and ten-year-old songs like Can You Feel the Love Tonight?, Music of the Night, and My Heart Will Go On at a time of her life when she should still be singing Jesus Loves Me? When did it become okay to teach a child to sing to us of sensuality?

I wince as I watch her, still wholesome and sweet, but changing–her mannerisms more affected, her body dolled up. Who could be unchanged by such a flood of praise and popularity?

I wonder if this is the kind of child trafficking we condone in America? Are we so willing to sacrifice the innocence of young performers as to set them awash and drunken with praise and expect them to keep their heads, to maintain their charming simplicity? Are we so eager to place adolescents in the position of sensuous adults that we cannot see the trajectory? Have we learned nothing from the Elizabeth Taylors, the Lindsay Lohans, the Charlotte Churches? Can we not predict the troubled lives, the wake of broken relationships once our carefully-groomed prodigies are all grown up, once they’re hurting and angry and robbed of everything good?

How is this not child exploitation?

We offer fame and money; we steal purity and unselfconsciousness.

We promise Jackie she can become a celebrity, and fail to tell her she can no longer be a child.

I mean hey, it makes money.

Owning home

Confession: I can’t help but wonder if it is this way for everyone—
if the sound of singing at your own church on a Sunday morning
is deep comfort
and healing
like the smell of your own home
and the feel of your favorite blanket.

We returned to sorrow and joy interwoven: birth and healing, loss and death.

Three of my dearest friends have given birth this summer to beautiful baby girls. Welcome to the world, Frieda Rebekah Cassandra. May you each become as lovely as your mother.

It is so good to be home.

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I posted a family picture from our week on my About Me page, and updated Current Reading.

Ads & ventures

Confession: I’m discovering unpleasant things about Pandora. I love Pandora. I hate its ads. Yes, I know I could upgrade to ad-free listening for just $9.95 per month! I’ve heard the pitch twenty times; not biting. But get this–

When I listen to Kings Singers or High Kings radio, I hear ads for great cars and good food.

When I listen to Enya or Jackie Evancho radio, I hear ads for internet security.

When I listen to Antonio Vivaldi radio, I hear ads for trendy shoes.

When I listen to St. Olaf Choir radio, I hear ads for hot Christian singles in Meadville.

No joke.

Complete with names and thumbnails.

Psshh. I know Meadville and there aren’t that many handsome men in the whole TOWN. Somebody needs to throw their “find God’s match for you” tripe at a chick with less kids and less brain. I’m going back to the Kings Singers.

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I’m leaving town for the week! This feels cosmic to me, though it is not.

We’re bound for Family Week at SMBI—when we get back, I have some sweet crafts to show you. We’ve been working hard on preparing them for about 50 young men and women, ages 6-12.

If you want to make my day while I’m gone, leave me a note telling something about your summer. Whatcha doing these days? What epic questions are you pondering? Cooking anything good? Finding simple ways to relax? What’s a cool place to visit with small children?

Ciao for now!
Shari