Sunday, December 26, 2010

Coventry Carol

Today's Gospel reading from the second chapter of Matthew recounts the Holy Family's flight from Bethlehem into Egypt. In the context of the liturgy itself, Joseph takes center stage in this Scripture as a paradigmatic father: a man protective of his family and unhesitatingly obedient to the will of God (Mt 2:13-15; 19-23). This focus on Joseph is fitting for the occasion, since the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Family on the first Sunday after Christmas. Conspicuously absent from this reading, however, is a description of the horrendous evil from which the Holy Family fled: the so-called Massacre of the Innocents. The omitted verses (Mt 2:16-18) read:

When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:
"A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more."
This portion of the reading is included on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, celebrated on December 28th, which commemorates the children which Herod slaughtered as the first martyrs.

Only a few days ago, I was listening to some Christmas music when I was disturbed by a rendition of the "Coventry Carol." It was a new version, performed by Annie Lennox (of Eurythmics fame), which begins in a way that I can only describe as menacing. I had never before listened closely to the lyrics of this Christmas "lullabye," but Lennox's haunting performance caused me to pay close attention. And it was at that point that I realized that this piece is a carol about the Massacre of the Innocents. It was supposed to disturb me. (The carol is embedded at the bottom of this post.)

The carol is the only extant song from a medieval Christmas pageant, performed in Coventry, England, in the 16th century. The pageant recounted the nativity story based on the second chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel. At one point, a carol was sung by a mother to her doomed child; a lullaby to a baby who would be slain by the despot Herod. Contextualized thus, this "Coventry Carol" becomes even more heart-wrenching and haunting, echoing the lamentations of an inconsolable Rachel from Jeremiah's prophecy:

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young to slay.
That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
One of the most drastic side-effects of the Incarnation--of the beautiful, humble beginnings of God's life in this world--is that the advent of the bright Light of Christ makes the shadows of this world darker and more pronounced. Juxtaposed with the "newborn King" in Bethlehem who brought freedom and life, and the three "kings" who bowed humbly at the crib of the infant God, King Herod's arrogance and lust for power are black as pitch, and drove him to spread death and fear. Historically, we know that he killed his own sons to assure an unrivaled reign. There is no reason to think that the slaughter of a few dozen "peasant children" in Bethlehem would be beyond his obsessive desire for "absolute" power.

While the Coventry Carol can be viewed as a genuine lament in the Jewish tradition, faithfully bemoaning God's apparent absence or indifference, I think it is best interpreted as a lament over the depths of humanity's sinfulness. To what lengths will we go to not give our hearts to Christ? How long will we cling to our selfish plans, waging war against the Prince of Peace?

O holy Child of Bethlehem / Descend to us, we pray / Cast out our sin and enter in / Be born in us today.

UPDATE (12/28/10): Today, on the Feast of the Holy Innocents itself, Word on Fire Ministries has published a reflection that supplements this one nicely. You can find it, and another version of the Coventry Carol, here.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

"Mary" Christmas!

Enjoy this beautiful painting by Morgan Weistling entitled "Kissing the Face of God."

Merry Christmas to you all!

Friday, December 24, 2010


Tonight we celebrate the birth, not of an idea, but of a Child; the advent, not of a theory, but of a Reality; the manifestation, not of a new myth, but of an historical Fact. Open wide your hearts to Christ, tonight and always! Merry Christmas Eve to all!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Seeing the Christ in Xmas

Is the use of "Xmas" a plot to erase Christ from Christmas? Doesn't look like it!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Ancient Greek Computer

This is astounding. In 1901 archaeologists discovered a complex device in an ancient shipwreck (dating to about 100 BC) off the coast of the Greek Island Antikythera. The purpose of the fittingly named "Antikythera Mechanism," however, remained a mystery until 2006, when--via advanced x-ray technology--scientists were able to determine that the complex system of gears had been used to calculate and predict the dates of solar eclipses(!).

If the idea of Ancient Greek Computers isn't enough to make you giddy, my fellow geeks, then this certainly will: Using 1500 LEGO Technic blocks, Apple Software Engineer (and my new hero) Andrew Carol has built a working replica of the Antikythera Mechanism.

I command you, my small but devoted band of readers, to watch the following video, all the while marveling at the ingenuity of the Ancient Greeks and squealing with delight as the mechanism is resurrected by those little plastic blocks that we all KNEW were well-worth playing with.

On Prayer

“No real definition of prayer can be given, for it is a mysterious life with God, a participation in the center of his being and in his divine, triune love. Certainly those forms which are furthest from the center are, in their isolation, also the most clearly delineated; thus they are to some extent amenable to description and definition. In order to understand the real nature of prayer, however, one must begin with that prayer in which man is most perfectly joined to God, i.e., full contemplation, wherein he is completely conformed to the will of God by God himself, wherein God places man in the state which he desires for him, wherein man has become an untarnished mirror of the divine will, a clear response to divine revelation. At this point the word of God has become so powerful that it requires no other words for its expression. God reveals, and man no longer needs to translate what has been revealed into alien images; he is absorbed in being part of what belongs to God. Just as a child at play, completely caught up in what he is doing, must first build a bridge from his world to the outside world if he has to explain his game to the uninitiated, so it is with the person who has been perfected in prayer when he is called upon to explain to others what he does.” – Adrienn von Speyr

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Same-Sex Marriage?

First of all, I realize that I haven't posted in a while. For that, I apologize. But schooling, as you know, comes first, and--as of late-- it's been taking all of my energies to simply be a good student.

That said, I found this video and thought it was well-worth sharing. One of the most common rejoinders from advocates of same-sex marriage against advocates of traditional marriage has been something like: "If marriage is so fundamental and sacred an institution, and is so concerned with the welfare of the child, why is divorce allowed/so easy?" I have always agreed with the frustration and pain expressed in this very question--and it's a good point. If advocates of traditional marriage are consistent, no-fault divorce ought to be one of their primary opponents, if not the primary opponent.

Despite the plague of typos and misspellings in the video, this presentation by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse (a former Yale professor) is a good watch.

Same Sex Marriage: Why Not? from Carson Weber on Vimeo.