It had been a typical neighborhood Christmas gathering up until then -- convivially assembled around beautiful appetizers and festive libations, in a lovely home warmly decorated, hospitably expansive enough to include young children happily pressed into duty as cookie butlers, adult children in for the holidays, and us, shoehorned into the "neighborhood” despite our remote address. Perched on sofas, clustered in chairs, meandering around the table and dawdling in the kitchen we chatted and laughed, munched, shared holiday plans and reminisced.
I'm not clear about the exact progression, but it started with the shared memory of a particularly sentimental adolescent rendition of “O Holy Night” that had involved one of the guests, and then meandered through the kinds of twists and turns and permutations around the room and other conversational groupings that can only happen at parties. And then the suggestion rather organically found voice that two of the other guests -- both professional musicians connected with the nearby college -- sing it for us on the spot. He, the pianist, hesitated as there was no music at the nearby piano; she, the vocalist, demurred, uncertain of all the words. “Let me think it through,” he finally said as he took his place on the bench and began to move his hands silently above the keys. She stood nearby, gazing into nowhere as her mental fingers gathered up the lyrics.
After several minutes and without fanfare his hands ceased their hovering and music began to flow -- that familiar arpeggio clearing the path for her voice that followed...
...”O holy night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear savior's birth...”
Dishes stopped tinkling. Voices silenced. Ears came to attention. Superficialities melted.
“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn...”
And somehow none of us, who only moments before had been chatting around inanities and occasional profundities in the ordinary home of friends, knew any longer where we were. Or perhaps more accurately each of us knew precisely where we were: there, in that suddenly expansive and achingly awe-filled moment that did, indeed, on this dark winter night in a season troubled and tense, seem somehow like the in-breaking of a hopeful morning. There, held by his gliding fingers and washed by her soaring voice. And there, I know no other way to describe it, we worshipped.
Fall on your knees
O hear the angel voices
O night divine!
O night when Christ was born
O night divine!
O night, o night divine!
It felt, in a way, like we were falling -- or soaring as soulfully and celestially as her voice. We followers and drifters, disciples and agnostics; we, both faithful and indifferent, transported to the very outskirts of divinity...and for some, beyond.
Eventually, and despite our unuttered prayers that it go on forever, her voice and his fingers reached their final note and the room fell still -- hushed for that moment by the sheer immensity of grandeur.
She apologized for the few words she hadn't got quite right; he for the few discordant notes that hadn't fallen in line. But we weren't listening -- at least to their disclaimers. We were still on our knees, still bound up in this impromptu thread of glory...
...still listening to something larger;
actually experiencing, for one of the precious few times this season...