Thursday, December 25, 2008

And heaven and nature sing

Who would care to read the papers on Christmas Day? Still, write we must even while the un-Christmas noise out there threatens to drown out the silence in our souls. We hang on to the silent music deep down and refuse to be overwhelmed by the glitter and the excess.

Somewhere there, is Christmas. (I took some time for me to decide where to place that comma.) Those who wrote to say that my column on Christmas last week resonated with them, ay salamat. Here are some random thoughts that might fill those little spaces in your heart, in your memories, in your thoughts.

One of my favorite Christmas sounds is the sound of trumpets blaring to the tune of “and heaven and nature sing” from the carol “Joy to the World”. It just seems to fling heaven’s gates open and send me off to a cosmic Christmas that is inclusive, all-embracing, creation-centered.

Trumpets can suit all moods and moments. The grandness of Handel’s “Messiah”, the languorous final call of “Taps”, the headiness of Orff’s “Carmina Burana”, the soothing jazz sounds at nightfall—they all happen, thanks partly to the trumpets. But the explosion of trumpets with “and heaven and nature sing” always makes me soar in a different way.

It’s not just the sound. It is also the words. How many of us know all the four stanzas of “Joy to the World”? Too bad the Filipino version is not a translation and there is no mention of heaven and nature singing.

I surfed and learned that the lyrics of “Joy to the World” were written in 1719 by Isaac Watts (1674-1948), an Englishman and an ordained pastor. From Wikipedia: “The tune is the piec¬ing to¬ge¬ther of themes in Han¬del’s (1685-1759) Mes¬si¬ah found in the chor¬us and in the in¬stru¬ment¬al int¬er¬ludes in ‘Lift up your heads’ and the in¬tro¬duct¬ion and in¬ter¬ludes of the re¬ci¬ta¬tive ‘Com¬fort ye.’”

But the inspiration for the lyrics came from Psalm 98. This psalm must be familiar among religious because it is part of the Divine Office (daily prayers). It is also among the responsorial psalms recited at Mass. For those who have no time to peruse the Bible, here it is:

Sing a new song to the Lord, who has done marvelous deeds,
Whose right hand and holy arm have won the victory.
The Lord has made his victory known; has revealed his triumph for the nations to see,
Has remembered faithful love toward the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth; break into song, sing praise.
Sing praise to the Lord with the hard, with the harp and melodious song.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn shout with joy to the King, the Lord.
Let the sea and what fills it resound, the world and those who dwell there.
Let the rivers clap their hands, the mountains shout with them for joy,
Before the Lord who comes, who comes to govern the earth,
To govern the world with justice and the people with fairness.

And heaven and nature sing! And nature could even defy nature as the prophet Isaiah said in his all-time favorite Christmas prophecy and ardent wish for our time and generation (Isaiah 11:6-9):

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.

There shall be no harm, or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.

And I cannot help but think of Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), a canonized Catholic saint, Benedictine abbess, preacher, writer, musician, mystic, scholar, scientist, environmentalist, healer. She was also a communicator of wisdom and knowledge.

For almost 800 years Hildegard was virtually unknown but in the 1980s her writings and songs began to emerge and interest in and awareness of her significance began to grow.

She coined the phrase “greening power (viriditas) and was first to view the universe as a cosmic egg. She offered a scintillating insight into the cosmos and its symphonic beauty.

Hildegard sings to us even today, and these lines from her are definitely a joy to the world as she sings of her vision of heaven and nature singing. How Christmas indeed.

O life-giving greenness of God’s hand,/ with which he has planted an orchard,/ You rise resplendent into the highest heavens,/ like a towering pillar./ You are glorious in God’s work…”

She hears God speaking to her. “I am the breeze that nurtures all things green./ I encourage blossoms to flourish with ripening fruits./ I am the rain coming from the dew/ that causes the grasses to laugh/ with the joy of life.”


May I ask for your prayers for Margie Quimpo-Espino, fellow journalist and friend who edits a business section in the Inquirer. Margie suffered an aneurysm while on a media-related trip in India early this month.
She recently underwent an aneurysm-coiling procedure in a hospital in New Delhi and is recovering. Her husband Chet is there with her, praying day and night. Theirs is a very close-knit family. Prayers from countless friends and colleagues sustain them both during this difficult journey of faith in this season of joy and togetherness.

Please, Lord, bless Margie with the gift of healing.


May you be joyful and triumphant in you quests this Christmas and the coming year. May heaven and nature sing in your heart.