[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, and allowing a second chance for those who missed them the first time, I reprint them here, with permission. The following ran in The Forum newspaper on Dec. 27, 2014.]
Living Faith: Caroling event a prelude to heavenly chorus
By Roxane B. Salonen
Is this going to be like church?” my youngest son asked glumly, just after we’d arrived at the cathedral Monday night for the first-annual community caroling event.
To his credit, as a parochial school student, he’d had a lot of “church” already in the build-up to Christmas, and though he’d come by his own free will, he was ready for something different.
He’d agreed to accompany me mainly because of the cider and snacks that had been purported as the post-singing offering to follow in the church basement.
The way to a guy’s heart is through his tummy after all, right?
But I’ll confess now to my joy at telling him, “No, we’re just here to sing and have snacks. That’s it.”
My friend Sarah had organized the event on a bit of a whim. After years of wandering away from the light of the church, she’d come back recently and was seeing everything anew.
Her heart on fire, she wanted to do something special to mark her first Christmas back at the cathedral after many years of chasing deceptive lights.
As a former choir girl, she knew the joys of singing – and the darkness of being away from song.
Realizing some in our community wouldn’t have a chance to sing Christmas carols, she wanted to invite all of Fargo-Moorhead to come together for this purpose, no strings attached.
I knew the night would be special as my son and I approached the cathedral, beautifully alight in a drizzle-soaked haze. As we entered the sanctuary, organ sounds lured us into pews toward the front, where we quietly admired a nativity scene spread out below the altar steps.
Soon, the Coventry Carolers that would lead us had convened and the first song, “Oh come, Oh come Emmanuel” had burst forth.
As a perpetual observer and wonderer, I grew curious at the others who had come and why. What burdens had they brought with them this night? And could a simple, old song be enough to lighten their woes?
Years ago, an atheist friend told me music had never done anything for her – she just didn’t like it, any of it. Of all the challenging topics we discussed over many months, this one still stands out as particularly perplexing.
But it also made me wonder about the connection between faith and music. The joy we receive from music cannot be explained through pure logic. In the godless view of randomness, music has no purpose; we can make no account for its existence.
And yet I’ve found there is nothing more powerful than music to expand the soul and evoke emotion deep enough to thaw a frozen or hurting heart.
The carols we sang that night were the traditional ones I’ve been hearing forever, and yet certain words struck me as never before. How had I missed their simple significance? Perhaps in knowing them so long, I’d taken them for granted.
As in this verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” suddenly so profound:
How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is giv’n; so God imparts to human hearts the blessing of his heav’n; no ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin; where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.
I’d come to the cathedral with few expectations, but as the sanctuary swelled with melodious voices, my own heart began to open to receive the unexpected gift awaiting.
It was the presence of my 9-year-old sitting next to me, his hands clutching the music sheet that not long before had been abandoned for visions of cookies dancing in his head. Now, his small, sweet voice merged with mine and rose higher still with the angels I sensed all around.
Without even seeking it, I’d just discovered my own reason for coming, and through it, found the reality undeniable: We were made to praise our good God through song.
The words that often dance in my own head to this end come from Psalm 145:2: “I will praise the Lord all my days; make music to my God while I live.”
The cathedral gathering that night was just a prelude of what’s to come, a rehearsal for the day when every last one of us, without reserve, will add our wholly unique and beautiful sounds to the carol of all carols in sheer gratitude for life and the God who brought it forth.
As the Christmas season crescendos one last time, may these words, which we need now more than ever, transcend the din: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.”