Monday, December 13, 2010

Sibling Assignment #137: Christmas Unity

InlandEmpireGirl gave the latest sibling assignment.

"Think of a Christmas memory tied to a school experience and why it has stayed with you."

You will find Silver Valley Girl's memories of Christmas programs here and InlandEmpireGirl's memories of school projects, here.

I'm moved by traditional Christmas carols.  When I was a youngster, these carols were part of my Sunday School/church life, alive in the public schools, and were always present in our home.

While I understand why traditional Christmas carols, the ones celebrating the birth of Jesus, are no longer sung in public schools, I'm happy I was in public school when they were. 

 My enjoyment of these carols wasn't theological.  In fact, my favorite carol in college was "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and I experienced it more as existential than Christian with its "dreamless sleep", "silent stars", and "dark streets".

No, it was the sound.  It was the uplift. 

I enjoyed school assemblies when choirs performed and the whole student body joined together in singing carols like "Joy to the World".   The joy to me wasn't that the "Lord has come" but that we were all joined in in unity in a joyful sound. 

When I transferred to Whitworth College, in 1974, it was my first experience being a part of something called an "intentional Christian community".  I thought I knew what that meant back in 1974. Now, I realize that my sense of being a part of an intentional Christian community was mostly a feeling of bondedness with others, whether the bondedness was actual or I imagined it.

Whatever was real or imagined about the feelings of belonging, trust, happiness, commonality, intellectual stimulation, and companionship that I felt walking within the confines of the Pine Cone Curtain, those feelings invigorated me and my life felt the most meaningful and purposeful it ever had.

I don't know if what I'm about to write really happened, but I remember it.

I know this is true:  every Tuesday and Thursday at 10:15 the student body of Whitworth College met in Cowles Auditorium for Forum.  Forum featured speakers, slide shows, readings, presentations, and, sometimes, music.

At the end of fall semester, my shaky memory tells me we had a Christmas Forum.  I think the choir sang.  Maybe there was instrumental music, too.  I think we prayed.

My first Christmas Forum was in 1974.  I loved my life.  I loved Eileen, whom I would marry two years later.  I loved my studies, especially Shakespeare and Old Testament and Russian History.  I loved being a part of an intentional Christian community.

At the end of that Christmas Forum, the gathered student body of Whitworth College, as I remember it, sang Christmas carols together. 

I lost it.  Suddenly all the people I'd sung carols with at Kellogg's United Church of Christ came into Cowles Auditorium with me. Margaret Eggart.  George Buchanan.  Pheobe Romine. Lee Holland.  Then came all the kids from Silver King Elementary and Sunnyside Elementary and it was as if Debbie Daughtery and Sandie Lewis and Debbie Smith and Cindy Rowley had joined me at the Christmas Forum. 

Suddenly, though, I wasn't in the physcial Cowles Auditorium any longer, but in a Cowles Auditorium of my emotional memory.  The seats of this Cowles Auditorium began to fill up with kids from Kellogg Junior High: Debbie Wakefield, Christy Kamppi, Sue Dahlberg, Stu, Jerry Stouffer, and then teachers:  Mr. Benson and Mrs. Jacobsen. 

The students and professors and staff of Whitworth College were singing "Joy to the World" in Cowles Auditorium, but the Cowles Auditorium in my heart and soul continued to fill up with fellow Kellogg High School choir members.  Dave Bauman read the Christmas prayer.  Mr. Exum conducted the girls' ensemble and Marty Shelt and Deanna McPeak appeared and soon I was in the Christianson Gymnasium at North Idaho College singing selections from the Messiah ("Who is this King of Glory?") under the direction of Rick Frost and I want to believe that our choir led the community atttending our Christmas concert in singing Christmas carols and the joy I felt as a member of the Cardinal Chorale returned, the joy of going to places all over the Coeur d'Alene area performing Christmas songs at churches, golf clubs, and restaurants.  I want to believe that those performances ended with Christmas carol sing-a-longs.

It all came rushing back to me as the congregated student body of Whitworth College boomed out "Joy to the World" and a different, more somber feeling filled me as we sang, "Silent Night".

Why has this stayed with me? 

It was a rare moment of unity where my school days, church days, and college days were at one with each other.

To me, this unity is God.

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