Daylight Now Is Fleeting

Growing up along the Texas Gulf Coast, the images of cold and snow in many of our Christmas carols and songs didn't apply to my experience, which often included wearing shorts on Christmas Day.  But at least I understood that for many people, it was a cold, blustery time of year.  What I did not fully comprehend, though, were the images of extended night that permeate Christian liturgy through the Advent season.  For me the images were strictly metaphorical, and it wasn't until I moved so far north that I began to understand the context in which much of our liturgy was composed (and to realize the Euro-centricity of much of our liturgy), and to see how the metaphors in our liturgy were based upon the lived experience of the seasons for those faithful who originally put these images to words.

Edmonton, where I now call home, is the northern-most major city in North America, meaning you can't find a larger city - or anything even close - if you go further north on this continent.  In December, I find myself walking to work (at 8:30 am) in what seems like the dead of night.  My walk home (around 4:30 pm) is also in total darkness.  I find myself gravitating toward windows during the work day, trying to savour that precious, fleeting sunshine.  We have something like seven hours of daylight in the deepest part of our winter.  And the extended night can really get to you.  So, the winter solstice is something to celebrate.  Days will start getting longer! The night doesn't win! The sun is returning! I now totally get why the early church moved the celebration of Christ's birth to late December, appropriating Saturnalia.  It makes perfect liturgical sense.  In the north.

I started work on this hymn during my second Advent season in Edmonton, composing the first few lines on one morning commute that felt particularly overwhelming to me.  It has taken me several years to return to this piece and to complete the hymn.  But here it is:  a hymn in which I strive to illumine the images of hope and light amidst deep despair.  My friend, Laura Jean Torgerson, a missionary in Nicaragua, calls it "a very Canadian hymn".  I joke that it's my contribution to the northern bias in Christian liturgy.  However, it's a hymn which I found very comforting and healing to compose, and one I hope can bring hope, peace, joy, and love to others as well.

Daylight Now Is Fleeting
NOËL NOUVELET  (Now the Green Blade Riseth)

Daylight now is fleeting.  Night, it lingers on.
In the wintry midnight, we yearn for the distant dawn.
When night seems the deepest, morning has begun.
We, among the shadows, prepare for the coming sun.

Often life feels empty, hollowed with despair.
We strain to glimpse the promise, struggle to form a prayer.
When gloom seems to triumph, Hope is on the way.
We, among the shadows, prepare for the coming day.

Violence all around us, at home and on distant shores.
We see no end to fighting, bloodshed, death, and wars.
When conflicts besiege us, Peace, it hurries on.
We, among the shadows, prepare for the coming dawn.

Burdened with great sadness, we cry out for relief.
We sing our lamentations, hearts overcome with grief.
When sorrow surrounds us, Joy appears in sight.
We, among the shadows, prepare for the coming light.

Enemies and strangers fuel mistrust and fear.
We long for true communion, but terror claims this sphere.
When hate seems victorious, Love is surely born.
We, among the shadows, prepare for the coming morn.

Trembling like the shepherds hearing the angels sing,
We follow to the stable.  From there, may our voices ring.
We tell of good news.  A child is born today.
Stepping from the shadows, we go to prepare the way.

Copyright © 2013 by Rachel Frey. All rights reserved.   

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