I have welcomed Christmas Eve by singing with full voice and full heart for as long as I can remember. In recent years, I have been part of a choir and/or singing at church service, and even in the interim years where church was not a part of my life, there was always an opportunity to sing carols in a neighborhood or senior center, or at very least belt them out at the top of my lungs in my car. Singing allows my emotion and spirit to take flight, the way one hopes to feel on a night filled with joy and wonder. This is the way I anticipated celebrating the culmination of this particular advent journey last night, on Christmas Eve.
I was feeling weary and a little sniffly when I flew back from visiting my family late on the night before the night before Christmas. I crashed in exhaustion when I finally reached home, looking forward to Christmas Eve at home and singing with my choir. I awoke later than usual, feeling like I had been dragged by the jet plane and with a cough that sounded like a cannon ball going off. And no voice.
I spent the day sipping tea, dosing myself with cough medicine, and hoping my voice would miraculously reappear. I avoided telling my choir director until mid-afternoon when I sent an email after it was evident that nothing was coming out of my vocal chords other than a hoarse whisper. I was feeling OK, except for my voice, when we all went to the early pageant service. I was still optimistic, so I told my choir director I would try to warm up on some hymns during that early service in anticipation of singing our 7:30 choral service. But, I couldn’t even croak out a verse of The First Noel an octave lower than written, so I just sat next to my spouse and enjoyed watching our Tween Angel (wearing a robe, halo…and bow-tie she added for effect) in the wild and sweet yearly Christmas pageant. Reluctantly, I had to admit defeat. It was going to be a Silent Night.
We went home, and I tried one more shot of cough medicine and sipped some lemon zinger tea. I was scheduled as Eucharistic Minister at the later service as well and decided that even if choir wasn’t an option I was going to keep that role, regardless. We were in the delightful situation of having our Bishop Suffragan as celebrant for that service, along with her spouse and our interim rector. But, lay servers were in short supply for that service and both my sense of responsibility and my sincere desire to serve pushed me forward. I wasn’t quite sure how this was going to work, voiceless as I was. But, my spirit told me to go and be in that space whether my voice was present or not.
So, I went back out to the later service by myself. The night was crisp and silent, Christmas lights dotting the streets. Church was still lit up with people lingering and mingling between services. I poked my head into the choir room to wave to my colleagues and give them a thumbs up before the service. Then, I robed for alter service and put a few cough drops in my pocket. We gathered and prayed. I didn’t ask for my voice back. I just prayed, as we all did, to be ministers of word and sacrament. I processed, silently mouthing the words, while my choir friends and other servers sang around me. And suddenly, it was as if I were in the midst of the heavenly host. I realized in my silence that I have always been so busy, happily singing that I never had the chance to just listen. Suddenly, I was hearing everything with new ears.
Throughout my own silence and stillness, I was able to take all that was surrounding me deeply into my soul. I could be fully immersed in the beauty of the liturgy and music around me and as part of me, in full motion but within my own stillness. I saw the expressions of those singing around me. I took in the words of a powerfully beautiful sermon and pondered them in my heart. I had a different vantage point, looking both inside and outside as we celebrated the incarnation of the divine into the world, and into our lives. It came time for communion, and I moved behind Bishop Susan, who was dispensing the Body of Christ. I held the chalice for each person kneeling at the alter. Aware of how quiet my voice was, I was closer than usual to each person as I whispered the words, “The Blood of Christ, the Cup of our Salvation.” The beauty of this closeness was not lost on me, and I was aware of Spirit moving through me, my motions, my quiet voice. I savored those moments with each person I served, completely immersed in the experience. What voice I had remained with me through the last of the service, then slipped away again.
Silent Night. Holy Night.
May the blessings of Christmas surround you, and may your eyes and hearts always be open to seeing the light that surrounds us, the spirit that fills us, the love that embraces us.