Monday, December 31, 2012

a year of reading voraciously

This post lists the books I've read this past year, with brief descriptions and reviews (out of five stars).   I hope you find some things here that you might like to read -- or, if you have already read them, to talk about with me!
If you make it all the way to the end, you'll see that I've also listed my 5 favourite pieces of music from 2012.



The Cellist of Sarajevo (Steven Galloway).  After a food-line bombing in Sarajevo kills 22 people, a cellist goes to the site every day for 22 days to play Albinoni's "Adagio."  This gripping book focuses on the female counter-sniper assigned to protect the cellist, and on two other men who live in the city.  It chronicles their reactions to war and their moral choices -- particularly the choice whether to become more or less human in the face of hatred and violence. * * *

The Lost Garden (Helen Humphreys).  (Re-read this for book study group.)  A beautifully written story about an insecure young woman in WWII England who goes to a country estate to lead a team of girls growing crops for the war effort.  She encounters friendship, love, and a mysterious hidden garden which she restores.  * * * * *

The Sisters Brothers (Patrick deWitt).  Weird western novel about two brothers, Eli and Charlie Sisters, who are hired assassins.  This book has a very original style and the narrator, Eli, is appealing.  Yet my reaction when I was done was, "Hmm, that was different" -- that's about it.  * *

The Rest of Her Life (Laura Moriarty).  This is one of three books I read this year by Moriarty, who's become one of my favourite authors.  When Leigh's daughter Kara gets in a car accident that kills another girl, Leigh is forced to face her strained relationship with Kara and with her own estranged mother.  * * * *

While I'm Falling (Laura Moriarty).  College student Veronica struggles to deal with her parents' divorce, school, and other challenges.  When she gets in trouble one night and calls her mother for help, her mother acts strangely and refuses -- only to show up later at Veronica's dorm needing help from her.  * * * *

The Chaperone (Laura Moriarty).   Set in the 1920's, this book focuses on Cora, a well-to-do housewife whose life looks perfect from the outside.  She accompanies a local girl to New York City, where the girl (soon-to-be screen icon Louise Brooks) is attending a dance school.  Cora uses the opportunity of being in New York to seek information about her own past as a child in a city orphanage.  Excellent novel; I loved it.   * * * * *

A Song for Nettie Johnson (Gloria Sawai).  A set of interconnected short stories about a Saskatchewan town.  We read the title story for our book study group; it focuses on the relationship between a reclusive "mad woman," the town drunk who is asked to direct the church's production of Handel's Messiah, and the minister and other townspeople.  * * * *

Death Comes to Pemberley (P.D. James).  This is a "sequel" to Pride and Prejudice.  Elizabeth's sister Lydia arrives at Pemberley crying that her husband, Wickham, is dead.  It turns out that a different man has been killed; how he died is the mystery of the book.  This book is all talk, no action:  I quickly got bored with the slow pace, stilted style, and interminable speeches, and I skimmed the last third just to get it over with.  *

Cold Mountain (Charles Frazier).  Inman, an injured Civil War soldier, leaves the battlefield to walk home to his sweetheart, Ada, in North Carolina.  The book is divided equally between Inman's journey and Ada's struggle to work the farm that her father, a preacher, left her when he died.  A beautiful love story with vivid descriptions of people and places.  Frazier is such a good writer:  I read his Nightwoods last year and it was excellent too.  * * * * *

The Beginner's Goodbye (Anne Tyler).  Aaron is struggling to get over the sudden death of his wife Dorothy.  When she begins to appear to him at random times and places, he is able to reminisce honestly about their relationship and find closure.  Great premise, but this is not a very realistic book; Aaron seems more like an elderly man from the 1950's than a 36-year-old in 2012. And Tyler seems to be repeating her previous novel, Noah's Compass:  hapless, clueless man gets fussed over by the women in his life, bla bla bla.  * *

The Forgotten Garden (Kate Morton).  In 1913, a four-year-old girl is abandoned on a ship sailing from England to Australia.  She is taken in and raised by a kindly dockmaster yet always longs to discover her true identity.  Years later, after her death, her granddaughter takes up the search.  This was an excellent novel -- a satisfying combination of mystery, romance, and fairy tale -- and I'm eager to read more of Morton's books.   * * * * *

House of Mirth (Edith Wharton).  (Re-read.)  Tragic but wonderfully written story of the beautiful Lily Bart, who longs for the security of a rich marriage but who, through a combination of fate and her own choices, finds her dreams slipping through her fingers.   This is probably one of my 5 favourite books of all time.  * * * * *

Austenland and Midnight in Austenland (Shannon Hale).  These two novels have different protagonists, each of them a woman who travels to a resort called Austenland for "an immersive Jane Austen experience."  The books are witty, fun, and sweet, and I'd recommend both, though I liked Midnight the better of the two.  But  the formula becomes a  bit stale; I'm not sure I'd read a third. * * *

Left Neglected (Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice).   The hectic life of busy supermom Sarah is halted when she has a car accident that leaves her brain-injured and unaware of anything on the left side of her body.  Interesting information about a fascinating, rare syndrome.  The story is pretty compelling as well, though kind of neat and tidy.  * * *

Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen).  This was the only Jane Austen novel I hadn't read before (which is probably true of many people).  It's very funny and ironic.   Innocent, artless Catherine Morland is drawn into the whirlwind of social life in Bath.  Among all the people she encounters there (including the conniving Thorpes), she is fortunate to meet Henry Tilney and his sister Eleanor, who are kind to her.  When the Tilneys' intimidating father invites Catherine to their estate -- Northanger Abbey -- her addiction to romance novels threatens her budding relationship with Henry.  Will their friendship end, or will it become something more?  (I also watched a movie version of the book this year, with Felicity Jones absolutely perfect as sweet, naive Catherine.)  * * * *

Year of Wonders (Geraldine Brooks).  This fascinating novel is based on a true story:  in 1666, when the Plague is brought into a small English village  by a clothmaker from London, the villagers decide (at the urging of their charismatic minister) to quarantine themselves to prevent its spread.  The story is told from the perspective of a young widowed housemaid, Anna Frith.  We did this book in our book study group and had a very interesting discussion of God's role in human suffering and of how Christianity is depicted in the novel. (We also discussed the HIGHLY improbable ending!)  * * * *

Gold (Chris Cleave).  Zoe and Kate are best friends and Olympic-level cycling rivals.  Zoe is single and solitary, driven by rage and grief over her past; Kate, who is married to another cyclist, is torn between her Olympic aspirations and the needs of her sick eight-year-old daughter.  Cleave does a great job of depicting the high-stress world of an elite athlete, and of getting into the minds of all his characters.  A true "couldn't-put-it-down" novel. * * * * *

And on my to-read-next pile:  After by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.


Tommy Douglas [from the "Extraordinary Canadians" series] (Vincent Lam).  This brief biography of Douglas contains one of the best quotes I've read in a long time:
      "To most Canadians, it has become a core part of our national ethos that health care should be equally available to all regardless of ability to pay.  It seems intuitively to be fair and right.  The corollary is that we accept a collective responsibility to fund this service with our tax dollars.  When we worry that we may lack a national identity, we sometimes pay universal health care a backhanded compliment by grousing that this, of all things, is the one feature of our nation that is almost universally supported.  Perhaps we feel a little embarrassed that a social service has become a defining part of our collective psyche.  We should not sell this notion short.  Although there are certainly other ideas and institutions that we could strengthen as part of our national identity, our belief in universal health care constitutes a strong statement about our nation's values.  The notion that all Canadians should have access to high-quality health care on an equal basis is an assertion that all human lives have equal value, and that a civilized nation should be collectively concerned for the health and welfare of its citizens."  * * * *

The World of Downton Abbey.  I got hooked on this excellent TV series last year and have watched both the season 1 and 2 dvd's.  This companion book gives lots of behind-the-scenes detail about the making of the series as well as what life would have been like for the servants and the aristocracy in the pre-to-post-WWI period.  * * * *

Daphne DuMaurier:  The Secret Life of the Renowned Storyteller (Margaret Forster).  Interesting biography of a complex woman for whom to write was to live (and whose Rebecca is another of my top-5-of-all-time novels). * * *

One Thousand Gifts (Ann Voskamp).  Voskamp writes about how she discovered gratitude as the key to joy and as a daily spiritual practice.  She has a unique style that is more like poetry than prose; it cuts through cliches to the struggle and pain of the life of faith. * * * *

Through the Glass (Shannon Moroney).  Moroney tells of how her life shattered when her husband, to whom she'd been married for only one month, was arrested for sexual assault.  This is an excellent book.  I heard Moroney speak at Kingston Writersfest this year as well; she gave a very compelling talk about her experience and particularly about forgiveness. 
* * * * *

Creating a Spiritual Legacy (Daniel Taylor).  This book focuses on the importance of passing our stories on to others.  Gives advice, insights, and examples of how to generate, tell, collect, and share our stories. * * * *

The Poetry Home Repair Manual (Ted Kooser).  This is a book full of helpful, interesting advice on writing and editing one's poetry.  It was by far the best book of the several I read this year on writing.  (I didn't keep track of the other titles.)   * * * * *

Who is This Man?:  The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus (John Ortberg).  I got this for Christmas and have just gotten into it; so far it's excellent.  The book explores the unparalleled impact Jesus has had on human history, thought, and behaviour.


(Click on the titles to listen.)

  1. "Somebody Loved" by the Weepies.   I first heard this song on the soundtrack of the movie "Adam" with Hugh Dancy, about a young man with Asperger Syndrome.   It's a gentle, simple song with great images.

  1. "I'm Not Talking" by A.C. Newman.  To be honest, I'm not absolutely certain what this song is saying, but I think it is expressing contented doubt:  "I like life as it is, and I'm not sure about the Big Questions, so until I am I won't commit myself and maybe jinx things."  Thought-provoking and really fun to listen to.

  1. "I Will Wait" (live) by Mumford and Sons.  You'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by  this unabashedly joyful performance.  And I love the lyrics with their prodigal-son overtones:  "Well, I came home like a stone/and I fell heavy into your arms;/These days of dust, which we've known,/will blow away with this new sun..."  

  1. "Flood Waters" by Josh Garrels.  The bluegrass harmonies are beautiful, but even better than that is the song's assurance of an everlasting love that is "more fierce than graves."

  1. "Butterfly" by Rajaton.  This song by the Finnish a capella group may just be the most beautiful piece of music I've ever heard.  And going to Rajaton's concert at Sydenham Street United Church in June was definitely the musical highlight of my year.   
    So what have you enjoyed reading or listening to in 2012?  Feel free to share that in the Comments!  And happy reading in 2013!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

a good Christmas

We have had such a good Christmas.  On Christmas Eve we had a lessons-and-carols service at church:  it was very simple and beautiful, with candle-lighting.  There was a pianist, violinist, and guitarist, and I helped lead the carols.  All the Scripture readers were young people; Allison was one of them and did a great job.

After church we came home and had a "picnic" supper in the living room:  garlic bread, cheese and crackers, fruit, and sweets.  Then Jonathan went to bed, but Allison stayed up with me and Richard and we watched the first half of "It's a Wonderful Life."  For the past several years Rich and I have watched this movie together on Christmas Eve and opened our gifts to one another, but now that Allison is older we need to adjust our traditions somewhat.  We opted to watch the movie over two nights so we wouldn't be up too late!

Christmas morning was picture-perfect: a soft blanket of fresh snow, and bright sunshine.  Jonathan was thrilled with a new puzzle and a "Super Why" DVD; Allison was thrilled with her new laptop and spent most of the day using it.  Richard gave me 2 tickets to hear the "Canadian Tenors" here in Kingston in late February -- just what I wanted!  :-) 

While I prepared our Christmas meal, Richard and Jonathan went to Rideau School to do yellow-blue-red; some things just have to happen, holiday or no holiday!

Richard's mom arrived around 1 p.m. and we had a nice meal together, topped off with cake for Jesus' birthday.  Jonathan thinks any special meal should involve cake and candles, so we've made this a part of our family's tradition, too.

We spent the rest of the day hanging out, reading, listening to Christmas music, etc.  In the evening Allison and I went for a walk to see the Christmas lights; then we came home and had another casual supper; then we watched the rest of "It's a Wonderful Life."  Such a great movie!  When Harry Bailey raises a glass and says, "A toast to my big brother George, the richest man in town," it's such a touching moment.  This Christmas we felt rich and blessed too:  our Christmas was simple in many ways but we were healthy and happy and could really enjoy it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Day: O come let us adore Him

O Come, All Ye Faithful

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant:  
Oh come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him, born the King of angels;
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

God of God, Light of Light,
Lo, He abhors not the virgin's womb;
Very God, begotten, not created:
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

Sing, choirs of angels; sing in exultation!
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God in the highest!
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be glory given.
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing:
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!

There was no other choice for my Christmas Day post but this wonderful song.  "O Come, All Ye Faithful" has it all -- and says it all.  It invites us to join with the angels in adoring and worshipping our Saviour.  It incorporates some serious theology:  that Jesus was not created by God, but WAS God in the flesh.  And it is so "joyful and triumphant."  Let us go to Bethlehem and behold Him!  I'll see you there!

Thank you for joining me on this Advent journey.*  May you and your family and friends have a wonderful celebration of the birth of Jesus:  Emmanuel, God With Us.

 Merry Christmas!
from Jeannie, Richard, Allison, and Jonathan 

(My apologies to the many wonderful songs that I just didn't have enough days to include:  As With Gladness Men of Old, Angels We Have Heard On High, Angels From the Realms of Glory, Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming, The Angel Gabriel From Heaven Came, Wexford Carol, While Shepherds Watched their Flocks, The First Nowell, Go Tell It on the Mountain, Mary's Boy Child, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, We Three Kings, Do You Hear What I Hear?, The Friendly Beasts, See Amid the Winter's Snow .......)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Advent Day Twenty-Three: Behold your King!

O Holy Night

O Holy Night!  The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope: the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn;
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night divine, O night, O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand;
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here came the wise men from Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our Friend;
He knows our need; to our weakness is no stranger.
Behold your King, before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another:
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name;
Christ is the Lord: O praise His Name forever!
His power and glory evermore proclaim!
His power and glory evermore proclaim!

Although it's very difficult to choose, I think this the Christmas song I love best.  Part of the reason is just the incredible beauty of the music.  (My favourite rendition of "O Holy Night" can be heard HERE, sung by Lucy MacNeil of the Barra MacNeils.)

But besides the beautiful melody, the song also carries a powerful message of peace and reconciliation.  In a world where discord, domination, and competition seem so prevalent, "O Holy Night" calls us to bow to the One who came to bring love and peace and who breaks the chains of the enslaved and oppressed.

My favourite scene in the entire Lord of the Rings movie trilogy occurs in The Two Towers when Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn  ride up to the castle of Rohan to meet with its king and determine the source of the evil spell under which he has fallen.  As the visitors approach the hilltop castle, the flag of Rohan, which has been flapping on the flagpole high on the wall, rips away from the pole, flies through the air, and flings itself onto the ground where Aragorn is passing by on his horse.  Though at that moment very few people are aware that Aragorn is destined to become the King of all the peoples of Middle Earth, the flag recognizes its true master and falls to the ground in homage.


Our King came to earth as a helpless baby in a "lowly manger"; Scripture tells us that "the world did not recognize him" (John 1:10).  Yet the song calls us to fall on our knees before Him:

"Behold your King!  Before Him lowly bend!"

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Advent Day Twenty-Two: heavenly peace

Silent Night

Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright 
Round yon virgin mother and child,
Holy Infant so tender and mild. 
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night! Holy night!
 Shepherds quake at the sight:
 Glories stream from heaven afar;
Heavenly hosts sing, "Hallelujah!
Christ the Saviour is born! 
 Christ the Saviour is born!"

Silent night! Holy night!  
Son of God, love's pure light 
 Radiant beams from thy holy face  
With the dawn of redeeming grace.
 Jesus, Lord at Thy birth,
 Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.

The traditional legend about this carol's origin is that the organ in the German town where Father Joseph Mohr was priest had broken down (possibly chewed by mice); Mohr gave his poem "Stille Nacht" to organist Franz Gruber, who wrote guitar music for it so that it could be sung on Christmas night even though the organ did not work.

This legend's truth is debatable, but what does seem to be true is the story of how German and British soldiers in World War I created unofficial truces on the front lines on Christmas Night, 1914, playing football games, trading candy and souvenirs, and singing carols -- one of which was "Silent Night."  Perhaps the tune and gentle words of a song that had meaning to both the Germans and the English touched the hearts of the soldiers.  And perhaps this event was a small reminder of how God's heavenly peace can actually become peace on earth.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Advent Day Twenty-One: Still

Still, Still, Still

Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.
For all is hushed, the world is sleeping,
Holy star its vigil keeping.
Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.

Sleep, sleep, sleep,
'Tis the eve of our Saviour's birth.
The night is peaceful all around you;
Close your eyes, let sleep surround you.
Sleep, sleep, sleep,
'Tis the eve of our Saviour's birth.

Dream, dream, dream
Of the joyous day to come,
While guardian angels without number
Watch you as you sweetly slumber.
Dream, dream, dream
Of the joyous day to come.

Although not one of the most-commonly-sung songs at Christmas time, this beautiful lullaby is one of my favourites.  It paints a lovely picture of a peaceful Christmas Eve night, with stars watching over a sleeping world and angels watching over a sleeping child.  Perhaps the combination of contentment in the moment and anticipation for the coming day is what makes this song so special.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Advent Day Twenty: like stars

Once in Royal David's City 

Once in royal David's city stood a lowly cattle shed, 
Where a mother laid her baby in a manger for his bed.
Mary was his mother mild; Jesus Christ, her little child. 

He came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all, 
And his shelter was a stable, and his cradle was a stall. 
With the poor and meek and lowly lived on earth our Savior holy. 

For he is our childhood's pattern; day by day like us he grew.
He was little, weak, and helpless; tears and smiles like us he knew.
And he feeleth for our sadness, and he shareth in our gladness.

And our eyes at last shall see him, through his own redeeming love,
For that child so dear and gentle is our Lord in heaven above,
And he leads his children on to the place where he is gone. 

Not in that poor lowly stable, with the oxen standing by,
We shall see him, but in heaven, set at God's right hand on high
Where, like stars, his children crowned all in white shall wait around.


(I think "wait around" in the last verse means "gather around in waiting," but these cute little guys look like they really are "waiting around" -- perhaps for their turn to come onstage!)


This carol sounds like it was originally meant to be a children's hymn, and perhaps that simplicity is the main source of the song's appeal.  I love its reminder that Jesus experienced everything we do as humans, so He can identify with our sorrow and joy -- and that He leads us, His children, to follow Him.  The final verse always gives me a shiver as I imagine Jesus enthroned in Heaven with all His followers dressed in white, shining like stars, worshipping and serving Him.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Advent Day Nineteen: mild He lays His glory by

Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing
Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!"
Joyful, all ye nations rise; join the triumph of the skies;
With angelic host proclaim, "Christ is born in Bethlehem!"
Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King!"

Christ, by highest heaven adored; Christ the everlasting Lord.
Late in time behold Him come, offspring of the Virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see; hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King!"

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, risen with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King!"
This is a triumphant hymn which, to me, always sounds best with trumpets and an organ with all the stops pulled out!  Yet what struck me as I was re-reading the words was the humility of Jesus:  He is "pleased as man with man to dwell," and "mild He lays His glory by."  Amazing words.  I grumble about having to give up thirty seconds of my time to glue  Jonathan's puzzle piece yet again -- so I can't even begin to imagine how Jesus gave up His place of glory and companionship with the Father in heaven to come to earth and live with, and die for, human beings.  Yet this song says He did so willingly.  It reminds me of the passage from Philippians 2:5-11:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 
but made himself nothing,taking the very nature of a servant, 
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself 
and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!  
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,   
that at the name of Jesus 
every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, 
to the glory of God the Father.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Advent Day Eighteen: fragile finger, tiny heart

Welcome to Our World

Tears are falling, hearts are breaking
How we need to hear from God
You've been promised, we've been waiting
Welcome Holy Child
Welcome Holy Child

Hope that You don't mind our manger
How I wish we would have known
But long-awaited Holy Stranger
Make Yourself at home
Please make Yourself at home

Bring Your peace into our violence
Bid our hungry souls be filled
Word now breaking Heaven's silence
Welcome to our world
Welcome to our world

Fragile finger sent to heal us
Tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart whose blood will save us
Unto us is born
Unto us is born

So wrap our injured flesh around You
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sin and make us holy
Perfect Son of God
Perfect Son of God
Welcome to our world


This song by Chris Rice (listen to it HERE) has become one of my favourite contemporary Christmas songs.  On his album notes, Rice describes his own song better than I ever could:

"This song is intentionally naive.  'Our' world?  Breathe 'our' air?  Walk 'our' sodIt is too much to take in that God would go to these lengths to display His love so beautifully.  Such a fragile finger, with a tiny fingernail, that would be the means of God reaching out to us and restoring us as His sons and daughters."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Advent Day Seventeen: He comes to make His blessings flow

Joy to the world , the Lord is come!  Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!  Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy, repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love, and wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.
First I should explain the funny association I have with this carol.  Back when Jonathan was in (I think)  grade one, his class participated in a holiday concert.  It being a public school, of course there was no religious element:  the presentation they did was about the five senses, and there was a song for each sense.  The song for touch was "Hot Hot Hot" (you'd probably recognize it by the "Ole, ole, ole, ole" part), and the kids all showed the palms of their hands as they sang it.  A week or so later we were at our Christmas Eve service, and the leader said, "Now let's stand and conclude our service with 'Joy to the World'."  Jonathan looked excitedly at me and asked, "Hot Hot Hot?"  Apparently "Hot Hot Hot" hasn't really caught on as a Christmas song, but I always think of it when we sing "Joy to the World."

I love this joyful carol.  The picture of all heaven and earth (rocks, trees, hills, plains) joining in worship at the birth of the Saviour is so beautiful.  And the third verse provides reassurance that even in the darkest times in our world or our lives, God's plan is to spread blessing throughout all the places where evil is present.  Personally I find this makes me want to examine my own life to see where evil or brokenness exists and ask Jesus to come in and make those places full of light and grace.  We can sing this song from our hearts when we have faith that He longs to do this, and can do it -- all because of the wonders of His love.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Advent Day Sixteen: come kneel before the radiant boy

The Huron Carol

'Twas in the moon of wintertime when all the birds had fled,
The mighty Gitchi Manitou sent angel choirs instead.
Before their light the stars grew dim, and wandering hunters heard the hymn:
"Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, In Excelsis Gloria!"

Within a lodge of broken bark the tender babe was found;
A ragged robe of rabbit skin enwrapped his beauty round.
But as the hunter braves drew nigh, the angel song rang loud and high:
"Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, In Excelsis Gloria!"

The earliest moon of wintertime is not so round and fair
As was the ring of glory on the helpless infant there.
The chiefs from far before him knelt with gifts of fox and beaver pelt.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, In Excelsis Gloria!

O children of the forest free, O sons of Manitou,
The holy Child of earth and heaven is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant boy who brings you beauty, peace, and joy.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, In Excelsis Gloria!


This carol is Canada's oldest Christmas song.  A Jesuit missionary wrote the words to the tune of a traditional French folk song, using native imagery to depict the Nativity.  It gives the Christmas story such a new, fresh perspective, and the melody is beautiful.

Listen to the Canadian Tenors' lovely, haunting rendition of this carol by clicking the link HERE.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Advent Day Fifteen: rest beside the weary road

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear

It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, goodwill to men from heaven's all gracious King!"
The world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come, with peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats o'er all the weary world.
Above its sad and lowly plains they bend on hovering wing,
And ever o'er its Babel sounds the blessed angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not the love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing.

 And ye beneath life's crushing load, whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing.

For lo! the days are hastening on, by prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years comes round the Age of Gold,
When peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendours fling
And the whole world give back the song which now the angels sing.



This beautiful carol reminds us that though the world is full of strife and violence, and though individuals struggle beneath heavy burdens, the song the angels sang on Christmas night is still meaningful and true.  God still longs to bring peace to our world and to our hearts -- and not only longs to, but has sent Jesus to make it possible.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Advent Day Fourteen: in memoriam

Today's post is in honour of the children and adults
killed in the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, 
December 14, 2012.


Coventry Carol

Lullay, thou little tiny child,
By, by, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny child.
By, by, lully, lullay.

O sisters, too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we sing?
By, by, lully, lullay.

Herod the King, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day, 
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young to slay.

Then woe is me, poor child, for thee,
And ever mourn and say 
For thy parting, nor say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.