“Peace on Earth. Goodwill to all mankind,” the ancient words proclaim.
For me, this season of peace begins with songs and conversations with my neighbors from a distant land. In some ways very different from me, and in many ways the same.
This past week I was privileged to host two singers from South Africa. Their chorus, Bergrivierkoor, was travelling around Boston, our Seacoast, NYC and then on to Belgium. This was their time to sing with our chorus. It was a short two day visit with weather that was too miserable to show them any of the beauty of a New England winter. My two new friends were very quiet, likely overwhelmed and exhausted from travel and most definitely cold. They told me a bit about their homeland, their jobs, families, a regular school day for kids, and a typical choir rehearsal. These small moments felt important in bringing stranger to neighbor to friend.
And then we sang together, the exuberant sound of togetherness. We sang a familiar song, “We are Marching in the Light of God,” but in Afrikaans, our visitors’ native language. I looked full in the face of the singer next to me, eyes on her mouth, and ears tuned to the unfamiliar gutteral sound. She smiled and sang and taught me, then started dancing with me. There was too much joy to be contained in the heady space of learning. We moved together.
The next evening our choir listened to our new friends sing. There was, “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” in Latin, English, and Afrikaans. There was the soloist with a rich vocal range who sang the purpose of their visit, “I Want to Know You.” We joined them at the end, co-mingled and a little crowded yet with room for everyone. Together we sang a song of peace from our repertoire that we’ve sung with choirs from Cuba, Northern Ireland, and Croatia:
This is my song, O God of all the nations
A song of peace, for lands afar & mine
This is my home, the country where my heart is
Heare are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine
But other hearts in other lands are beating
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine
We sang our very upbeat new song in Afrikaans, together dancing and enjoying. And then came a moment that can’t quite be described because it was an incredible experience. The South African choir sang their national anthem, surrounding us and between us, while we just listened standing closely with them. It’s a song sung in several languages that is a hybrid of a church hymn, song of political protest and poetry. It’s old and new at the same time. Peace on earth, indeed.
There was more singing. A reception with food and bursts of spontaneous song. There was the quiet humming to the radio with my new friends on the drive home.
We said goodbye the next morning on another cold, dreary New England day. There were selfies, and hugs, and thank-yous. There was this crazy moment when I forgot that snow can be a big deal. My friend, travelling with her brother, posed for their first snowball fight, because of course they hadn’t seen snow before. Yes please, more joy to the world.
If this is the season of hope, light, joy, peace then let it be filled with song, and with quiet, with being seen and with bringing those far away just a little closer somehow.