Boxing Day

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On the first day of Christmas…

It is Boxing Day. A day when perhaps the only feeling that many of us have is ‘full’. Days like this call for quietness and reflection.

During Advent, I have been having my customary listen to one of Sufjan Stevens’ 5 album Christmas collections. This track from ‘Silver and Gold’ struck me as the ideal listening material for today, this first day of Christmas (yes, you are allowed to hit the first person today who says ‘That’s Christmas over for another year then‘).

It is far better than hitting the sales today to buy more stuff that you don’t need to replace the stuff that you are sick with, in my humble opinion.

Advent

I was listening to the Test Match when suddenly on Radio 4 long wave, the Daily Service broke in. It was an Advent service, replete with Advent hymns. I’ve not had to prepare a service in Advent for 2 years, so it was refreshing to listen and be reminded.

I used to find Advent hymns and readings strange: there are no chocolates, cuddly snowmen, gentle Jesus meek and mild or carols here. It was-at least initially- tempting to skip over them to something more accesible and understanable.

Now something about their strangeness speaks. I liktheye the fact that they are not immediately understandable, that they talk of overturning established ways of doing things and how they shatter my mild prose filled world with wild poetry.

And I like the waiting, longing and the Hope more; especially as I get older and am more aware of fragility:my own and others- life is so temporary and passing. Somehow the strangeness seems more ‘real’ than everyday life.

This is my favourite advent hymn- perhaps my favourite ever- redone by the unique Sufjan Stevens:-

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O come emmanuel sufjan

Christmas Eve

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This is my favourite Advent hymn ever. and is one of the few hymns that makes me cry.

I like the tune and the words of longing: miles away from the brashness and saccharine that can affect the season.

I like the longing for restoration and Hope and the acknowledgement that things are not as they could be.

I like the frailty of Sufjan Stevens’ voice.

O come, O come, Emmanuel…

Friday Music

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I haven’t got many cds unpacked so I have mostly been listening to the more recent ones that I have bought.

I cannot stop playing ‘Carrie & Lowell’: it is one of the most compelling albums that I have heard for many years.

Essentially a meditation on the singer’s childhood and the dying and eventual death of his estranged mother, it is emotionally riveting. Sometimes it is hard to drive whilst listening to it.

This track I keep returning to- one of the saddest songs I have ever heard. It is an adult singing to the memory of his dying mother and using all the pet names for him that were never said.

Haunting.

Friday Music

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It must have been over 10 years ago that I ‘discovered’ Sufjan Stevens. I was starting an MA thesis on U2 and Lesslie Newbigin’s idea of ‘public truth’ (don’t ask). It eventually had the catchy title of ‘looking for Baby Jesus under the trash’. I wanted to call it ‘Jesus help me, ‘cos I’m alone in this world and a fucked up world it is to’, but my tutor said I was writing to get an MA not to get in the News of the World.

When I first became a  Christian, I loved music- still do. Someone told me that I should try ‘Christian rock’ and I did… but even at 18/19 I thought it was rubbish (at least the stuff I was given): pastiche, derivative and with the lyrics- often unimaginative, foregrounded. It seemed like ‘safe’ entertainment for Christians fearful of going outside.

I became really interested with artists with a faith who did not want to stay in the Christian music ghetto, but practised their art in the mainstream. That’s how I stumbled on Sufjan Stevens and I was hooked: captivated by his unique musical vision.

This new album is the most elegiac, deep, tuneful, gutwrenching album I have ever heard. Essentially a meditation on his mother who struggled with mental health issues and abandoned the family it also tangentially draws on the idea of faith without ‘preaching’. In fact, Stevens has called much of the ‘Christian music industry ‘didactic crap’.

But I don’t care: this album is utterly beautiful.

Friday Music

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I was bought up on delayed gratification: the idea that you wait- you don’t just buy. I sometimes lapse (I go through rashes of wantonly spending £3-£5 on a succession of cds on my wish list), but mostly I manage to stay on the straight and narrow or at least feel guilty when I don’t.

I wanted this collection of cds for at least a couple of years (Sufjan Stevens 2nd 5cd Christmas collection) , but I had enough presents and could never justify spending more. Until this year when it was bought for me.

It is not an instant thing appreciating a 5cd album and I am still getting to grips with this magnum opus. It is like the last 5cd album: a combination of the brilliant, off kilter and ‘what on earth is that?’.

His reworking of this song I really like. And I am putting it on here today as it is the 8th day of Christmas: Christmas is not over yet…

Advent

Advent begins today.

There was a time when this meant almost nothing to me: much of my formative Christian experience was in the evangelical wing of church and we didn’t really ‘do’ Advent.

Over time it has meant more: a holy rage against the facile nature of much of contemporary Christmas (I am not entirely ‘bah humbug’- I do like parties and presents. Single malt whisky since you ask) and the discipline of waiting.

I have a soft spot for the old advent hymns that we don’t sing very much any more. Although the language takes some translating, it is rich in imagery. I particularly like this hymn and struggle to sing it all the way through without gulping:-

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

I very much like how Sufjan Stevens took hold of this song as well:-

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Friday Music

It is Advent. Not Christmas. I like the longing and wistfulness of Advent and this is my favourite hymn from the finest quintuple Christmas album ever (it may be the 2nd finest as Sufjan Stevens has released a 2nd one ‘Silver and Gold: vols 6-10 which remains beyond my funds….just saying…).

Bliss….

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Some more Christmas music

I like the album version better than both of these. It is from the greatest quintuple Christmas album ever (Sufjan Stevens ‘Christmas’….I haven’t got ‘Silver and Gold’). This remix could be used as backing:-

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Or I could attempt something like this, I suppose:-

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In the next few days I will be featuring a few videos that I have been looking at which form part of a new take on ’9 lessons and carols’ that (a) I couldn’t think of the audience for at present (b) I never got round to doing. This is the fifth one of those.

Advent

Today is the first Sunday in Advent. Christmas doesn’t begin until Christmas Eve (and not August 7th as most shops seem to think…).

Here is a collect from the Methodist Worship Book:-

‘Then will the glory of the Lord be revealed

and all will see it together.

Wait for the Lord, be strong and brave

and put your hope in the Lord’.

This is one of my favourite hymns- I prefer the longing of the Advent ones more than the sickly sweet Christmas carols- redone by Sufjan Stevens who captures the melancholy longing well:-

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