My friend, Pat, in Eugene, regularly sends me articles by Jon Carroll of the San Francisco Chronicle. They're often funny, and Carroll's quite secular, as he admits in the quote below (the entire text is linked in here). However, I found it touching - and worth noting - that the beauty of music and a darkened church environment touched him so powerfully. I've had similar responses to Scripture, music, poetry, and, most recently, memories of a trip to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
He attributes his reaction to beauty and nostalgia, but perhaps God, who is Beauty, Goodness and Truth, touched him on all three levels - in spite of his protestation to the contrary.
At halftime, as we say in Bach Choir circles, I thought: Well, that was a
nice thing. Once every decade or so I could do this.
So then came the second half. The church was plunged into darkness. From
each side, singers emerged from the large doors and walked up the side
aisles and then back down the middle aisles, singing as they went, candles
burning in a clever potable music-stand-cum-candleholder. They were
singing "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."
And I lost it. Tears were streaming down my cheeks. I was surprised by my
tears and uncertain how to turn them off. At one point I was sobbing like
someone who had just lost a relative.
It's a carol I know, so I guess some childhood nostalgia thing may have
been at play. But I am not religious and thus do not believe that Emmanuel
has come to ransom captive Israel - although I wish someone would ransom
captive Israel and soon too, before the world blows up. Just tell us where
to leave the money. I do not believe that the birth of Jesus of Nazareth
is a cause for rejoicing any more than I believe that the birth of Jesus
of Mexico City is a cause for rejoicing, except among Jesus' immediate
And yet, and yet ... music is music. Good singing is good singing. And
candlelight is candlelight, and when you are surrounded by song in a
darkened room, something in your soul - in my soul - reaches out for the
Yes Jon, and your soul is reaching out constantly for that which is beyond this world with its pain, sadness, and ephemeral beauty. God works in ways mysterious to us, but undoubtedly when Emmanuel returns in glory (although he hasn't really left us orphans), those ways will be revealed as oh so constant, grace-filled, and beautiful.