O come, thou Wisdom from on high
and order all things far and nigh;
To us the path of Knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.
~ “Veni, veni Emmanuel” from text of 15th century
Songs for the Heart
My sisters and I were raised in a family of music. Music surrounded us all the time, most all places and occasions. Dad was playing, we all were singing. One of my fondest growing-up memories is of Dad playing "Somewhere over the Rainbow" and "Mountain Greenery" into the wee hours as we drifted off to sleep every night. Music has forever been a part of my DNA. And so, of course music holds a central place throughout Advent and companions me in this grieving time. There are so many songs of and for this season. Songs that delight, that teach, that comfort. They are woven into the fabric of this December journeying.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel was said to have first been sung by congregations late in the 19th century. This verse that asks for wisdom to come wasn’t part of the original piece. It was said to have been translated and added in 1918. These ancient words were offered to worshippers during the time of the first World War. What must it have been like then? How in the world did they make sense of the killings that were happening and the fear of the killings that were still to come? And it is in these fearful, unchartered days that this verse joins this old Advent carol.
In most every grief experience of my life there has come a time when I have felt the need to cognitively reason it through. Why? Why? Why did this happen? How could this happen? What brought this here? Times of demanding answers that never will come. In this time when absolutely nothing fits together, when my world is turned inside out and upside down, I keep trying to figure things out. What continues to baffle me is somehow I believe that knowing why will explain everything’s that’s happened. Somehow knowing will make sense of the nonsensical. The truth is knowing why this great loss came into my life, does in no way impact this great loss. Sometimes it just muddies the waters. It’s as though I believe that if my head gets involved and tries to reason through this all-engulfing pain, my heart will be able to rest for just a bit and maybe have a chance to catch up.
This verse from this ancient Advent hymn calls to me and resonates with me in this tender season. It calls on wisdom and knowledge. Not necessarily the same thing. Not nearly the same thing. Knowledge about grief at best gives us tools for ways to cope. Knowledge can give us practices for starting over again. Perhaps these ideas can at some place become companions for us along the way. Perhaps.
When I am grieving, I call upon the wisdom of the saints. I long for the presence, the stories, the understanding of the ancestors who have gone before. Not so much seeking specific words of instruction, but instead yearning and watching for the human grace and mercy that comes from having lived through something similar and somehow having made it through.
So for this first week in December, I’ll call on the wisdom from on high… In the chaos that is grief, may there also be the possibility of restoration, reclamation, and perhaps re-ordering that feels almost as soothing as what can come from a Balm in Gilead.