Phenomenology, a cruel creed, Preaches its faith in omnipresent ways: “One world alone” is all the creed we need, Empiricism controls all our ways. And so we build our barns and get and store, Laughing at those who sing noumenal songs, Ignoring those who say, “No, there is more,” Scorning an ethic built on “Right” and “Wrong.” In stark contrast, the Galilean Jew, Who used his stories to affirm his creed, Out-Kanting Kant on what we ought to do, Sounded a warning every person needs: “Do not forget, you fool, all bills come due, This night your soul will be required of you.”*
When I was young, Christmas wasn’t very much— a balsam culled from the edge of a field, colored balls in a tattered box, durable strings of colored lights, glorious music in local churches, long, slow winter hours.
Now that I am four fifths old, Christmas is so very much, so bought and sold in Christian bulk, carols slammed down secular streets— bad or worse in slipshod churches. What sea or landfill’s deep enough to hold the glitter-smash of all these broken ornaments?
. . . Who are you again?
I was a wise man, literate in stars.
Ancient and uneasy in America, wrapped in swaddling robes, wheel-chaired, parked beneath denatured swags of falsely berried nevergreen, I miss austerity. I miss desert travel.
I miss the naive Christmases when, four fifths young in my frugal father’s house, I wrote my hopes on a battered desk in a shadowy hall upstairs— the ceiling high and cold with draft on dragging winter evenings when there was no entertainment but my mind unentertained, yet knowledge of approaching holiday. Once I dreamed that I worked all night, forgetting— then woke in the downstairs room as warm as womb: the tree of light.
But most of all, I miss how every modest Christmas morning, disappointment in the presents faded quietly and wisely, gone by breakfast even for us children.
. . . but—who are you again?
Melchior, come back in another searching time.
Searching for what?
The light from the star that just now is arriving.
The astrologer? One of the three? Why here?
Too much room at the Christian Inn. And who would look for a Magus here among this wreckage of untreasured age and unmined memory? Herod is alive and well and killing babes for no reason at all. This is the manger of 2005 and the hay is eating the oxen.
I do not understand you.
What is it in this saturated, satiated anti-Midas age of yours that everything you touch, once gold, turns lead! Even the holy babe we found is new-born, yes! again this year, but four fifths dead.
Wait! Don’t wheel away—! Listen— Listen. I’ll tell you what I still can see on late-in-Advent evenings in my clearest memory: the true Nativity– my faithful father’s glowing tree reflected in the tall black window panes of living room, the colored lights imposed on bare and frozen trees outside, and that was it—the lead-to-golden bough, like Gabriel’s who imposed on Mary’s how.
Like Christmas then on Christmas now.
Believe I do reject the artificial tree and heart of modern Christmas “season”—
Are there any more like you?
Two or three in beds and halls and cattle stalls on every floor.
Will you take back one Christmas night, one Christmas morning, only, for your use? Will you refuse cartoonish “power” pointed songs of praise (follow the bouncing ball) projected in what used to be a sacred space, and wait for writing by the hand on temple wall Can we agree?
Will you come with me? Though I seem to nod in this cushioned chair in the cushioned space of used-to-mean, let word go forth in Herod’s time again: we are at odds with the even powers and will report to no one what we’ve seen.
We’ll secret the strains of ancient songs of love bereft and hope long gone, safe in heart, secure in mind, singing the news between mourn and morn: —for two or three of us old kings he is still born.
Chanticleer brings its usual polish, balance and tonal beauty to these intimate sacred songs. The rich harmonies are powerful as the melodic lines crunch against one another. Has anyone ever been better at such writing than Henry Purcell?
“I have been even as a man that hath no strength, free among the dead . . . Shall thy loving-kindness be showed in the grave?” —Psalm 88
Some days I feel as old as father Abraham, doddering father of a teen-aged daughter who last week attended her first “real” concert, at the crowded Aragon Ballroom in Uptown. When will my own days feel real again, the frozen clock hands begin to turn again? When will this chemical burning in the veins stop, and hope, perhaps, be recompensed? I wear this long wool coat against the cold that hurts me, covered with two scarves, my face covered to avoid any feeling of cobwebs, with their every thread feeling like a tiny razor blade slicing the skin. There is no ounce of benignity in this feeling. Maybe that is why the winter mask, last week found at Target, most accurately resembles a terrorist accessory, all black- hooded with eye slits. Were I to wear it, I would appear on campus like an ISIS recruit, no doubt a proud servant in his mind, clouded by the violence of the mission and sentence he honors. O the necessary horrors, those airstrikes occurring in the body’s battleground, leveled at the cells. If I were to wear the black hood, guise of a hangman (not the one hanged), I fear that campus security would target me, bucolic space locked down in emergency protocol. That’s all I would be: self-terrorist, strapped with the various wires of my sickness.
On the day the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal, Iowans Bob Vander Plaats and Donna Red Wing had a chance meeting and hugged one another—even though they are culture warriors on opposite sides of the same-sex marriage debate. Vander Plaats heads Family Leader, which supports traditional marriage; he believes Red Wing’s lesbian marriage is unnatural. Red Wing, head of One Iowa, an LGBT rights group, has called Vander Plaats “bigoted” and “cruel.” But a few years ago, at Red Wing’s initiative, the two met for coffee and struck up a friendship. Since then they have been trying to soften the rhetoric of their organizations while still sticking to their principles (Washington Post, July 4).