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Saturday, December 27, 2014

In the bleak midwinter,
frosty wind made moan;
earth stood hard as iron,
water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow,
snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him,
nor earth sustain;
heaven and earth shall flee away
when he comes to reign:
in the bleak midwinter
a stable place sufficed
the Lord God incarnate, Jesus Christ.

Angels and archangels
may have gathered there;
cherubim and seraphim
thronged the air;
but his mother only,
in her maiden bliss,
worshiped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give him,
poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb;
if I were a wise man,
I would do my part;
yet what I can I give him: give my heart.

Christina Rossetti’s “In the Bleak Midwinter”
(tune: Cranham)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

What can I give him? 

This hymn transports me. Christina Rossetti gave us a personal, tender poem pouring out her love for the transcendent God, and later, in a rush, Gustav Holst vocalized her words with a snowy melody that perfectly acquaints us with her quiet passion. What gifts! How pleased God must be with the work of these two artists whose nineteenth-century lives were marked by illness, financial despair, loneliness, and depression. 

Their living legacy of words and notes are sprinkled delicately on the page, waiting for me to sing them out from some curious reflexive viscera. As the organ introduces the tune, I nervously set my heart to sing with an air of “Me too! Me! Me! I want to give, too.” But what can I give? I have a terrible voice. Off-key. Tone-deaf. Dissonant. Breathless. Creaking. Croaking. Grating. I will make a mess of this magnificent carol. People will judge me; give me dirty looks; wish for me to shut it; hope I choke; hate me!

He calls me to stillness. I respond in silence. I close my eyes and imagine letting his peace rule my heart. In a second my transformed heart awakens and shakes off the grumbling in my mind. And so I sing as loud as I can with my whole peaceful core. I give God my imperfect singing of this perfect song. I set my voice on an imaginary course of graceful, harmonious, angelic melody. This, I believe, is what he hears.

My God, I love that my discordant heart can be stilled by your peace. I love that a perfect gift for you is my imperfect song. Amen.

Written by Regan Burke, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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