From Wendell Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things*, where he escapes from “despair for the world” to where the wild things are. To enjoy the poem, I have to cut ol’ Wendell some slack as he goes onto mention wood drakes and herons. The bird, a less peaceful species you cannot find (especially water birds who can be quite ruthless with their own chicks.)
But it’s that time of year
where one can take inspiration for peace and contemplation. Even for those not so religious, this sense of “resting in the graciousness of the world” comes through loud and clear in Christmas carols, which communicate among other important things this message that the waiting is over, and if we only give ourselves over to something greater we will certainly find that peace.
One of my fondest memories from Catholic school days is the gathering of all the girls in the main vestibule of the school for the weekly lighting of the Advent Wreath, marking the four weeks of waiting for Christmas. It had never occurred to me before this writing, but did the sisters (of the Notre Dame order) know what they were doing, gathering us all in the vestibule like that, the place where one waits for and welcomes guests? The song invariably sung as each candle was lit is still today one of my favorites precisely because it symbolizes patiently waiting for something greater:
Veni, veni Emanuel!
Captivum solve Israel!
Qui gemit in exilio, Privatus Dei Filio.
Gaude, gaude, Emanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.
Veni, O Sapientia,
quae hic disponis omnia,
veni, viam prudentiaeut
doceas et gloriae.
There are a few other verses to O Come O Come Emmanuel. And we would add verses each week, until the whole song was sung during the lighting of the last candle.
And speaking of symbols…
Let me begin by saying it is one of the most moving, if not the most moving films I have seen:
The Epic of Everest from the British Film Institute
I had been meaning to write of this movie for a few months, but with one thing and another (usually having to do with bees), I am only getting to it now. Which is fortuitous because I think it fits with the spirit of the post.
It is the restoration of the film made by Captain John Noel, part of the fateful Mallory-Irvine climb in 1924. Both Mallory and Irvine lost their lives. The film records the journey, the climb, the people. It is not just the fact that we see Mallory and Irvine and their sub-team climbing that one last time before they went missing and eventually presumed dead, though that is emotional enough.
It is because Noel filmed the communication of this news from the rescue team. So, we as the audience are experiencing the news with them. We watch, along with them, as members of the rescue team form a cross with blankets way up on the mountainside-the signal that Mallory and Irvine and their team could not be found and were presumably gone.
The restored film was excellent, and the modern score was just right in capturing the mood. The above BFI link has a short clip, and I would urge anyone who has the opportunity to see this to do so.
(see also http://axeoneverest.com/2011/03/28/communicating-from-mt-everest/ which includes notebook pages from the climb detailing the signaling).
And the Tibetan name for Everest: Chomolunga which means goddess and mother of the world. The Tibetans, according to the movie, were not surprised that the expedition came to a bad end. This is what happens when we try to “know” the unknowable.
This was not meant to bring you down….
Mainly to underscore the point about symbols and how they can have power in different contexts. And to me Christmas is that time of year where symbols are all around us. We just have to be open to their power.
And speaking of opening things…
As I sit hear admiring the lights of my Christmas tree, listening to carols, I’m hoping I will also be cracking open the new Dictionary of Latin from British Sources, symbolically speaking, that is.
* I would quote Wendell Berry’s whole poem, if I could, but things are getting pretty vicious, copyright-wise….