Themes: Feasting and Fasting Establishing Sacred Time and Space Preparing A Way Honoring Ancestors
Chant of the Week:
Open my heart, Come in, come in Open my heart, Be one with me
Ghent Altarpiece, Van Eyck (closed position)
Recommended Reading for Advent: Devotions by Mary Oliver: This magnificent collection of poetry includes several pieces which are particularly important for or inspired by Advent. My favorite is Making the House Ready for the Lord.
Veni, redemptor gentium ( above) is the 4th century chant that is the basis for Martin Luther's hymn Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland (Now Comes the Savior of the Nations) that in turn becomes the foundation for the opening movement three of Bach's Cantatas which were performed on the first Sunday of Advent. You can hear the chorale very clearly at the close of Cantata BWV 36. In BWV 61 and 62, the chorale is woven like a ribbon within a very ornate sonic tapestry in the opening movements.
NOte Listen here to the marvelous live performance by the Netherlands Bach Society of Cantata BWV 62 and marvel how this simple plainchant has become a polyphonic wonder expressing a fevered anticipation of " He's coming! He's coming!" . Bach uses the same Chorale tune as the basis for Cantata 61, which has a very different. more intimate feeling
1. A festive choral fantasia with instruments scurrying in a flurry of excitement; strings, woodwinds and chorus all take turns passing the central hymn of Nun Komm back and forth . This is ecstatic writing- impossible to keep still, my daughter found , while we were listening to it while working. Don't resist the temptation to move: get up and dance! NOte the marvelous musical play at 2: 56 as the lower strings repeat a four note motif (three repeated notes, one descending, not unlike Beethoven's 5th) that signifies the Sacred "knocking at the door" of our hearts asking to come in.
2. Aria for tenor O Highest Good, what have You not done for us? What do you not do still daily for your own? You come and allow your light to shine full of blessing.
One of my most cherished Christmas gifts was the complete collection of the Bach Cantatas performed by John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir , an enormous boxed collection that combines amazing technical precision with profound passion.
Below are the movements with my very loose translations of the textual ideas.
Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland, Cantata BWV 62 J. S. Bach, based on Martin Luther
1. French Overture Festive Chorale Fantasia with hymn woven with full orchestra Now come, Savior of the world Let the whole world marvel-
2. Aria for tenor, accompanied by strings and oboe expressing longing in a dancing rhythm
Marvel, O humanity, at the great Mystery which is upon us- The divine manna given to us The treasures of heaven now uncovered O miracle!
3. Bass, recitative , Strong and Stern “See, I stand at the door and knock” From the throne of glory Comes the hero from Judah To run the course with joy. O brilliant light, o radiant blessing!
5. Aria for Bass: Jagged rhythm depicting struggle Help us in our struggle to overcome All of our weaknesses. O might and power, Strengthen the good within us weak human beings
6. Recitative for Soprano and Alto: We approach the place of humble beginning now, With praise and joy on our lips. For you have prepared us, and the darkness shall not overcome the light.
7. Chorale based on Nun Komm Hymn Praise, praise, praise eternally!
3. Aria for tenor (Come, Jesus!)- a song of longing and expectation with dotted rhythms and gentle dancelike character
4. Bass, vox christe, “See, I stand at the door and knock”. Note how the instrumentation, punctuated by brief chords, evokes knocking
5. Aria for soprano: Open, My Heart: A Love Song Open my whole heart- How filled with joy I am, For though I am made of earth and dust, I might become the dwelling place of the Divine.
6. Chorale: Amen, amen! Come, you fair crown of joy- a brief but ecstatic conclusion
The "Nunn Komm" hymn was the foundational tune in the Lutheran world for this first Sunday in Advent, and Bach uses it in Cantatas BWV 61 and 36 as well. One of my most cherished Christmas gifts was the complete collection of the Bach Cantatas performed by John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir , an enormous boxed collection that combines amazing technical precision with profound passion. This is the culmination of a year long "Bach Pilgrimage" that Gardiner took with his extraordinary ensemble, traveling around the world performing the Cantatas for the liturgical seasons- one of the most audacious and gorgeous musical productions ever conceived. Seek out Gardiner's recordings on youtube and listen to them all
Another wonderful idea for this time of year to celebrate the beauty of simplicity is to gather fallen leaves and branches as you walk through the woods and create a nature mandala . Carl Jung, during his days as an ambulance driver in WWI, drew mandalas to sooth and center him . Midern neuro- science suggests that creating a "still point: with a center through such activities can indeed help calm the brain and even help alleviate PTSD. For inspiration on creating art from nature, seek out the film Rivers and Tides about land artists Andy Goldsworthy and the book Morning Altars by Day Schildkret. These gorgeous images will inspire you to see what is possible- visit the website here
Advent is all about waking up and paying attention in the stillness to see the beauty all around us and to clear out space to give birth to the wild and unexpected beauty within us. Silent watchfulness can gentle the heart., and poetry as a path spiritual practice can help us do just that, as this poem by Rosemerry Trommer shows.
Suggestion for a Day by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer
And if today we speak all, let us speak in golden leaf. Let’s converse in low clear stream, whisper in rose-hip pink. And if we speak at all today, let’s slip mulch between each word, aware that what we say will grow-- how powerful the words we sow. And if we speak at all, let’s speak in mountain, speak in field, speak only words that lift and heal, speak only words that lift and heal. And if we speak, let’s listen for the quiet in between-- plant tulips bulbs in the silences. And crocuses. And grace. And any words with thorns in them, let’s set them down. Let’s lose them. And if our words don’t open like sky, let’s let the sky say everything.
Rosemerry is one of may favorite living poets and her words never fail to bring the light of hope to me. You can access her archive and sign up for her daily poems here
Sibyl, Fra Lippi
Questions for Journaling: 1) What is the rhythm of "fasting" and "feasting" in your life? 2). What might you need to let go of or "clean out" in order to make room for wonder or joy? 3) Who are your forgotten or neglected ancestors? How might you "invite them in" this season?
Suggestions for Spiritual Practice: -Choose a poem to read aloud and copy every day on the themes of hope, stillness, waiting, emptying while listening to one of the two Bach Advent Cantatas featured this week. - Create an Advent Altar with an Advent candle. At sunset time, light the Candle of Hope and reflect on the graces of the day as you sing the week's chant and then sit in silence. - Try your hand at writing your own Advent poem - Create a collage of your ancestors, both spiritual and literal for your soul book. What would be their messages for you?