January-February 2015

WINTERGRACE

SIGNS OF ENDINGS ALL AROUND US

By Susie Glaze

Kentucky Christmas CoverI write this month’s column from the place of Christmas approaching, so there are surrounding flows of energy around me now encompassing those year-end events, sacred and otherwise, that mark the passing or ending of things and the expectant energy of a new year or re-birth. Hopefully as this new year comes in and you’re reading this after it’s come through, the “iconography” (if you will) of this writing will apply as we move forward into this re-birth of a new year.

Winter is a time of endings, no matter where you are on the planet, as the earth goes into a hibernation of its typical growing. And in the liturgical church services where I sometimes sing, there is the hymn:

Signs of endings all around us, darkness, death, and winter days,

Shroud our lives in fear and sadness, numbing mouths that long to praise.

This is a time when I certainly feel this pull towards sadness, especially when the light disappears around 3:30 in the afternoon and the dark slams down decisively like a cold, black basement door. The mind and soul realize that it has that long, long night ahead of it. But I think, now that there have been many of those long nights where the heart fears, there is the chance at redemption. The morning does come, and hope can be real.

My dear Jean Ritchie, the subject of my column, always sang and wrote with gentle welcoming and joy about this time—not just for the coming of the Christ child and the accompanying music that came along in this season, but for the pace of winter bringing peace, the time for quiet and warm togetherness within a family as it finishes its work of reaping and savors the harvest. This is when, for her as a child, she was the happiest, surrounded by the “Singing Family of the Cumberlands” and their sacred songs and secular ballads, manifested in glorious harmony for the community and for themselves.

I commend to you their marvelous recording, Kentucky Christmas Old and New (which you can find on Amazon for the sound of the Ritchie family during their favorite time of year. And for her sweetest message of this time, here is Jean singing her song Wintergrace.

This is the time so well we love

The time of all the year;

When winter calls with chilling breath,

For fireside and good cheer.

A time for man and beast to stand

And feel the season turn;

To watch the stars for secret signs,

And God's true lessons learn.

For the time,

When the corn is all into the barn,

The old cow's breath's a frosty wine

And the morn along the fallow field

Doth silver shine.

And when cold morning's radiant star

Shines over hill and plain;

We know anew that little Babe

Is born to us again.

And man and beast and bird in tree,

Each one in his own place;

We bow our hearts and thank our God

For winter rest and grace.

For the time

When the corn is all into the barn,

The old cow's breath's a frosty wine

And the morn along the fallow field

Doth silver shine.

So many of us live without the vividness of Jean’s world of perfect natural cues that leads one into sweet reflection of the beauty of winter. We are so obsessed with a faster and faster and faster pace through life, and, if we choose, this pace never lets up. We’ve become a culture and a world full of chronic speeders, constantly rushing forward in a race toward gain, and we are continually unable to see the benefit, the utter reward to be reaped from silence, from stillness. This tragic facet of our world now robs us of the legacy of our forebears, which is a wisdom found in quiet times - empty spaces where imagination and creativity can find a place, can blossom, and, yes, peace can be had.

I turn to Jean’s Wintergrace to find a grace for myself: to be able to more wisely accept the darkness and to bless it, and let it bless me. She writes about watching the stars for signs and the true lessons that are being sent to us. I believe these lessons come from within, and you can only hear that “still small voice” if things are quiet around you. So, if we choose, we can see and feel that what winter is giving us is TIME, time to go inward, to light the candle of the soul and embrace what it brings us.

I heard recently from an old friend who wrote to let me know that their family had finally and completely left a tract of farmland that had been in their family for many years, and her attempt to cope with and mark the heartbreak of that transition. At the end of her note she expressed her gratitude for having been able to live amongst that beauty—a “tapestry” was her word—an exquisite combination of landscape and relationship that aptly expressed that time in our lives, those of us that got to share it.

So yes, these endings “all around us” can be full of grieving. But I am holding fast to Jean’s sense of purpose and rightness about every season. And those can be seasons of the heart, of the soul, or of the mind. They each bring us to a newness, ultimately. And this is where we get the chance to strengthen our faith in that process. I firmly believe, as I’ve watched it happen for many years, that the seed of the new is embedded in the shell of the old. And when you know that, you can embrace the dark, and the endings, with joy.

A winter column regarding Jean Ritchie would not be complete without a memory of her family’s rendition of the Southern Harmony standard, Brightest and Best. You can find this on Kentucky Christmas and here is my recording with Kenny Kosek on fiddle from several years back: 

Name Play
Brightest And Best
Susie Glaze

Hail the blest morn when the great mediator

Down from the regions of glory descends,

Shepherds go worship the babe in the manger,

Lo, for a guard the bright angels attend.

Brightest and best of the suns of the morning,

Dawn on our darkness and lend us thine aid,

Star of the East, the horizon adorning,

Guide where our infant redeemer is laid.

Cold on His cradle the dewdrops are shining,

Low lies His head with the beasts of the stall;

Angels adore Him in slumber reclining,

Maker and monarch and savior of all.

Brightest and best of the suns of the morning,

Dawn on our darkness and lend us thine aid,

Star of the east, the horizon adorning,

Guide where our infant redeemer is laid.

Vainly we offer each ample oblation,

Vainly with gifts would His favor secure,

Richer by far is the heart’s adoration,

Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

Brightest and best of the suns of the morning,

Dawn on our darkness and lend us thine aid,

Star of the east, the horizon adorning,

Guide where our infant redeemer is laid.

I wish that joy for each of you and for us all, certainly. Let the music continue to be for you a comfort and a joy and an expression of all that it is to be human. Keep telling the stories and be kind to one another.

Blessings to each of you as this year comes to a close. And I wish peace and love to you, gentle readers, in the new year, and gratitude to you for reading along with me this year on FolkWorks - Singin’ the Moon Up. I’m grateful for your friendships.

Award-winning recording artist and critically-acclaimed Bluegrass powerhouse vocalist, Susie Glaze has been called by BLUEGRASS UNLIMITED "an important voice on the California Bluegrass scene."  Her album "Blue Eyed Darlin'" was the winner of  the Just Plain Folks 2006 Music Award for Best Roots Album and FolkWorks Magazine's Pick for Best Bluegrass Album of 2005. "One of the most beautiful voices in bluegrass and folk music today." (Roz Larman of FolkScene). Susie's latest release "Green Kentucky Blues" and additional recordings can be found at www.susieglaze.com.

  

All Columns by Susie Glaze