By Peter Crysdale
Come with me to a little town in the mountains in Austria. The year is 1816. There’s a little church in the town called St. Nicholas. The story goes that the organ was broken. It was Christmas Eve. The pastor Joseph Mohr had written a poem a year or two earlier. He gave it to his friend Franz Gruber and asked him to compose some music — simple music that could be played on the guitar. The music and the words for ready in time for midnight mass. “Silent Night” was born, perhaps the most wonderful Christmas carol of all.
Silent night holy night,
All is calm all is bright.
Round yon Virgin mother and child,
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace. ———————-
Come with me, we will leave Austria and go to Spain, the year is somewhere in the middle of the 1500s. We’re off to visit a Carmelite monk named John; here are some of his words. They are best read aloud.
One dark night filled with love’s urgent longings –
Ah, the sheer grace. I went out unseen— everything was still—
there was no other light or guide – than the one that burned in my heart.
This guided me more surely than the light of the moon to where He was waiting.
Him who I knew so well.
Oh guiding night more lovely than the dawn oh, night that has united the the lover and his beloved
I went out from myself I left my cares forgotten among the lilies.
Now come with me to Washington, D.C., and meet a man named Gerald May, a psychiatrist who wrote several important books on the spiritual life. In 1995 he was diagnosed with cancer and began a heavy-duty course of chemotherapy. The cancer was put into remission. However his heart was damaged by the chemo and he spent the last few years of his life waiting for a heart transplant. He wrote a book on the dark night of the soul. Then he died. He had discovered the monk named John, the Spanish Carmelite monk — John of the Cross. The dark night of the soul has a kind of morbid reputation in Christian circles. However Gerald May discovered it to be profoundly beneficial. He described it as a process of the Spirit freeing us from the deceptions and attachments that keep us from knowing our true selves.
Silent Night Holy Night The darkness is not sinister Just have to sing Silent Night to experience that. A freeing is going on beneath what we can put into words. Silent night bestows hints of a deeper Divine activity. From the obscure (the dark night) a guidance rises and moves gently through our lived experience – comforting, and steadying through all and sundry. I expect you’ve been there while you were singing or listening to that carol. it brings a deep stirring and awareness of our longing hearts. Advent is the season of the longing heart.
Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the site.
Glories stream from heaven afar.
Heavenly hosts sing alleluia.
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born.
Silent night holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus Lord at thy birth, Jesus Lord at thy birth.