11 January 2009

playing in church

About a year ago, a church on Chicago's South side closed. I was honored to be invited to bring my dulcimers and provide some of the music for the last service. I am thinking about that service now, because I am transitioning from Christmas to Easter music in my practices.

In our music, and this is probably true for almost any Christian denomination, there are images that are simply wrong. Consider the first line of one carole, "The snow lay on the ground." Jesus was born in Palestine, there are no snow storms there; it is likely that the weather was warm. Yet, we sing of snow, of cold, and if anyone suggests we drop those songs, they will face an angry congregation.

In art too, we see the same sort of 'error.' Jesus is black, He is white, he is blond, he has blue eyes. The same for Mary and Joseph. These were first century Jews, likely used to absorbing a lot of sunlight. So, probably, they were dark tan skined brunettes. But, if we look, we can fine Asian art in which the eyes of these Jews are slanted, the skin tone somewhat yellow.

Epiphany, a time for finally understanding. A time to have an "a ha!" moment. What is the art and music we are putting away at the end of the season telling us? In this central event, the coming of Jesus, there is so little we know. We know he came, either in Bethlehem or Nazareth. We think we know the names of his parents. We know and affirm what he did and what he said as an adult. We know that after being executed by Rome, He has transcended death.

That is about it. And for us, curious as we are, it is not quite enough. We want the details, so when God does not give them, we provide them. Thus the land was covered in snow and the principal persons in the story were blonds.

So, are these artistic license, or flat mistakes? No. I think they are the signs of artists struggling with incarnation, reaching for symbols that allow us to somehow wrap our arms around the enormous reality. They are trying to help us make the events visible in our own minds. So, here we are, finally with the baby, who looks like us, whose parents look like us, who experience weather like us, because we need to bring the reality of incarnation down to our size.

I may go play "The Snow Lay On the Ground" tonight.

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