Thursday, December 18, 2014

Holy Innocents

Once in a blue moon, someone asks if I know any tunes for the Feast of the Holy Innocents (Dec. 28th). Hymns for the Holy Innocents are scant, partly because the biblical story most likely did not happen, and partly because there are still people around who want to limit the definition of "innocents" to infants killed by kings who feel threatened. Mostly, though, it's just a huge bummer to bring up the topic of lots of dead babies during Christmas week (Darling, can you pass the chocolates?).

I rarely see more than passing reference to the observation of the "Feast" of the Holy Innocents in hymnody, except Coventry Carol, (bye bye lully lullay?) and a verse in the zipper hymn for saints By all your saints still striving, which is so lame I can't bring myself to print it here (#232 in the Hymnal 1982). The gist of it is Rachel should cease her weeping, and God's got a good supply of crowns for all the dead babies who are better off now that they're at peace. Grr.

It's not as if the murdering of innocents isn't still going on by people who feel threatened, so why are we still surprised 2,000 years later, that the powers are still behind it in the most systemic and roguish ways, gunning down unarmed people on their streets and in their homes? How long will it continue? When will we rise up and make it illegal to kill unarmed citizens? I do not know, and most hymns for this day do not lend courage for this context, but rather make me wanna rage and scream about sugarcoating past realities, which of course gives us an out when we'd rather ignore present realities.

Each of us brings the gifts we have to the tasks at hand. My gift is melody, and the task as I have discerned it, is to write and pray the kinds of tunes I do not see or hear in the world or the church and share them in the hope that they might sink in, and we may all draw closer to seeing God in one another. Our lives together and unconditional love are so important that to forget to sing and pray about them from the heart with one another is to stall movement toward the realization of a beloved community. There are great depths to be plumbed before we can find the unity we co-create and cease our projections and judgments of one another. We must learn to communicate: to set aside intentional time in which to do this together in our communities and also in our homes, to invite all the stakeholders to the table, to encourage one another to speak our truths, and to find skillful paths through the knee-jerk reactions of fear, silence, and exclusion. Our lives depend on it. Hatred will not cease until we do it. Our children deserve to know that life is not a tug of war with a win/loss column. It takes showing up, slowing down, and hard work, which when undertaken with honesty, patience, and compassion, creates plenty of love to go around.

I wrote this tune for this text in 1983. The text is by Rosamond E. Herklots, and it's one of her best. If you can't read music, please read the text below (click to enlarge). The tempo is somewhere around 104 beats per minute. If you play it on guitar, see the last measure for a hint, and if you play keyboards, in my head it flows like Schubert's Gretchen am Spinnrade.

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