Christmas 9: Join the dancing

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Fra Angelico, “Dance of the Blessed”

On the ninth day of Christmas, apparently, someone’s true love once gave them nine ladies dancing. Impractical though this is as a Christmas present (not to mention hard to wrap), it suits today’s carol well: the majestic “In dulci jubilo”, set by the seventeenth-century German Lutheran composer Michael Praetorius. The story of the text, originally written by 13th-century German mystic Heinrich Suso, is a story of dancing being brought into the midst of grief. According to the (auto?)biography of Suso, The Life of the Servant, Suso was told by an angel to stop the intense mortifications that he was practising and instead to join the angels in their dance: “Now this same angel came up to the Servant [Suso] brightly, and said that God had sent him down to him, to bring him heavenly joys amid his sufferings; adding that he must cast off all his sorrows from his mind and bear them company, and that he must also dance with them in heavenly fashion. Then they drew the Servant by the hand into the dance, and the youth [angel] began a joyous song about the infant Jesus, which runs thus: ‘In dulci jubilo’, etc.” It may or may not be a true story (more about the fascinating life of Suso can be read here), but the f
act remains that a man known for his austere ascetic practices also gave the medieval church one of its most joyful hymns. Today’s poem is inspired by Suso and the angel’s words.

Join the dancing

Angels dance around the stall.
Sing! Sing! One and all.

Come to earth, enthroned in hay,
sleeps the shining, living Day.

Leave your grieving songs, your weeping.
Dance, dance, with angels leaping.

Though the darkness now may linger,
Heaven dwells within a manger.

Cast off your ashes and your sackcloth.
The king is resting in a food trough.

Nothing now can snuff his light.
Sing, dance, with all your might.

Third Candle: Advent is Rising

Rejoice. The third candle, pink and fresh with life,
Alights and sparkles while the hope grows long.
Rejoice: Advent is rising; though the strife
Of ways unprepared may hurt our knees, the strong
Will hold the weak and walk. Advent is stretching
The stiff joints of silence. Advent is latent
Yet stirring with noise; Advent is listening
For the cue to rise and walk, to repent
And follow the king. Advent’s a twitch, an impulse,
A call to attention, a horn lifted,
A pounding, a surging, a raising of pulse,
An in-gathering of lost and of sifted.
Advent is beckoning and growing with sound;
Advent rejoices in humming around.

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