Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
This advent hymn has been with me for the last few days. Unlike the usual earworm (think Baby Shark), I’ve welcomed this melody into my daily life. If you’re not familiar with it, imagine a single voice singing a tune that evokes the image of monks walking silently through ancient halls. The music is hauntingly beautiful and brings up a sense of deep longing for me. The lyrics by Gerald Moultrie are rooted in a chant that dates back to the third century that was sung as part of the offertory.
The line that I find myself putting on repeat is “Ponder nothing earthly-minded….”
Pondering earthly-minded things is my gig. From concern about whether or not the gifts I’ve ordered will arrive in time for Christmas to worrying about how our congregations are faring during this COVID-season, these days seem to be deep in thought and anxiety. Beyond this worry-work, I find my mind casting about to what life will be like six months from now – what will be our newest struggles and opportunities? How will I respond – how will WE respond – to this new world that continues to be unwound?
I am the Queen of Ponder, and although it has led to gray hair, some digestive distress and an odd rash or two, I quite like thinking about everything from the yarn choice for my next sweater to the patterns that exist in our lives together.
This hymn doesn’t ask me to stop my pondering (the word suggesting not just thinking about something but engaging in though deliberately especially before coming to a decision… thank you Webster!). No, these lyrics that echo in my bones in this season of expectation do not ask me to stop this work but rather to refocus it. It’s not the pondering that is a problem, but what I’m giving this pondering energy to: “For with blessing in his hand, Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand.”
When I allow myself to put aside for a time the worries and anxieties of this world and to focus for just a bit on the King of Kings yet born of Mary and to allow the mystery to touch me… if ever so briefly… I understand why the end of this hymn dissolves into angelic alleluias. Even in the midst of incredible uncertainty, fear, and death there is joy. I find myself able to join the six-winged seraph in the chorus. It’s here that I realize/remember that it’s not about me, it has never been about me and that fills me with both release and joy.
King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.
At his feet the six-winged seraph,
Cherubim, with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Lord Most High!
As we move toward the third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday, or the Sunday of joy, I pray that you’ll find time to ponder and in your pondering find joy.