Friday, December 25, 2009

Contexualizing the Christmas Story

If you have access to Facebook and wish to add to the discussion I hope to have provoked there, please do.

Merry Christmas and a Blessed Nativity of Our Lord to you all! As I do every year, I’ve spent considerable time humming or singing Christmas carols and hymns. And as I have for many a year passed, I’ve contemplated one particular hymnodic question.

Briefly consider this hymn written in 1643 by the Jesuit priest Jean de Br├ębeuf (#Canadian patron saint, Canadian martyr) for the Huron natives. Called “Huron Carol” or alternatively “’Twas in the moon of wintertime,” the hymn illustrates a question of contextualization that intrigues me.

*‘Twas in the moon of wintertime
When all the birds had fled
That mighty Gitchee Manitou
Sent angel choirs instead.
Before their light the stars grew dim
And wandering hunters heard the hymn:
“Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born.
In excelsis gloria.”

Within a lodge of broken bark
The tender babe was found
A ragged robe of rabbit skin
Enwrapped his beauty round
But as the hunter braves drew nigh
The angel song rang loud and high:
“Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born.
In excelsis gloria.”

The earliest moon of wintertime
Is not so bright and fair
As was the ring of glory on
The helpless Infant there
And chiefs from far before him knelt
With gifts of fox and beaver pelt.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus in born.
In excelsis gloria.

O children of the forest green
O sons of Manitou
This holy Child of earth and Heav’n
Is born today for you
Come kneel before the radiant Boy
Who brings you beauty, peace and joy.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born.
In excelsis gloria.

I would ask, “Is this hymn appropriate for Christian use?” If so, in what settings is it appropriate: liturgy, private use, caroling? Why or why not?

On the one hand, the song is beautiful (at least, the Jesse Edgar Middleton translation I am working from) and confesses the birth of Jesus Christ. However, I am curious about two aspects of lyrics.

First, how appropriate is the use of the name “Gitchee Manitou” for God? Is the use of this Huron name similar to the anglo use of “God” for YHWH, or is there significant reason to avoid using this name to refer to the Divine (ie; syncretism with indigenous paganism)?

"Gitche Manitou (Gitchi Manitou, Gitche Manito, etc.) means "Great Spirit" in several Algonquian languages. The term was also utilized to signify God by Christian missionaries, when translating scriptures and prayers, etc. into the Algonquian languages.
"Manitou is a common Algonquian term for spirit, mystery, or deity."]

Second, how appropriate is the re-description of the characters in the Christmas story to fit the Huron context? For instance; “wandering hunters” for shepherds, “chiefs from far” for magi, "fox and beaver pelt" for gold, frankinscense and myrrh, and “ragged robe of rabbit skin” for swaddling bands. Are there substantial objections, theologically or otherwise, to such modifications? Objections considered, are the alterations of detail acceptable for hymnodic use?

I do realize that these may be questions lacking conclusive answers, but what do you all think?


Friday, December 11, 2009

Out of My Ken

Dear Reader,

I have a sad state of affairs to report. The girl who is ignorant of fashion, clothing names, and ettiquette will be attending a wedding where the dress code is "day formal." Advised by the bride that this should be in the area of "Christmas Sunday Best" and "less formal than evening", she is still very uncertain.

The authority on fashion whom I most respect has interpreted "day formal" to indicate an "afternoon dress", "tea gown", or "dinner dress". Google is not helping me visualize these very well. What I have gleaned of info merely tells me (I think?) that there ought to be a close-fitting bodice with a flowing skirt (and maybe a train?), that there should be gloves worn (?) and some other variable and frighteningly incomprehensible bits about gloves and things.

I'll admit I'm very intimidated. I've never owned a pair of dress gloves in my life, nor am I at all familiar with what fashionable clothing called by it's proper name actually looks like. I know work-wear like Carharts, overalls, steel-toe boots - ya know, functional clothing.

This is a constant problem for me whenever I step outside the borders of hill-billy land and college-student kingdom. I never know what is appropriate wear nor how to fit my current wardrobe to meet expected standards. I consistently find myself (by my own observation and comparison of my attire to those around me) overdressed or underdressed for the occasion - or simply dressed very differently. I'm not terribly concerned about conformity, but I do like to not draw attention to myself in social settings where there is an established expectation.

Therefore, I want to ask some very dumb, very specific questions:

Do I need to obtain gloves? What sort?

Do I need a hat? What material? What style? What color?

Is a particular sort of shoes required? What sort/color/build?

What does the proper dress look like?

Grateful for any light on the topic,

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Day You Quit Crying.

Yesterday morning I participated in a medical emergency. To be honest, I started the process. I didn't like how the patient was acting and breathing. I called the nurse, and within a few minutes all sorts of things were happening. We ended up sending the patient out to ER. While we were working, I was calm - likely because I was doing something to help, be it as little as holding the patient's hand or shoulder. After it was out of our hands and I reported to my instructor however, I found Nicole in a supply room and cried on her shoulder. The respiratory therapist saw me and I stopped.

Later that day he found me to show me labs from the ER. After explaining what had happened with the patient, he said something I'll never forget.

"What you did in the backroom is a good thing. Crying means you'll be a good nurse."
"Why?" I said.
"Because it means you care. The day you quit crying is the day you need to quit the job."

When I had awakened yesterday morning, one line of a song had been running though my head and refused to leave me all day.
But since it falls unto my lot
that I should go and ye should not
I gently rise and softly call
Goodnight and joy be with you all!