Another Perspective

A Sentimental God

Singing Christmas carols in New England -- maybe for the last time.

By 12.20.07

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Two statements from two different golfers, two different sporting eras. In an interview on The Golf Channel, Johnny Miller, a champion of the 1970s, remembered how his older brother was swept out to sea and lost from the rocks near the Cliff House in San Francisco, where he was fishing. The memory brought tears to Miller's eyes.

"He was a good boy. I know I'll see him again," said the avowedly religious Miller.

Two years ago, Earl Woods, the father of Tiger Woods, died after a long illness. Tiger said, in evident grief, "I'll never see him again."

One man has the God sentiment, and for the most traditional of reasons and consolations. The other does not.

This last weekend, we went to our friends the Wakemans' annual Christmas party, an event that has, since we arrived in New England 17 years ago, meant Christmas to me. In Wendy's traditional small living room, people gather around her piano, and Wendy plays from a collection of carols and secular Christmas songs.

The fire burns. The wassail bowl cheers. Everybody sings. Once, during a chorus of "Silver Bells," I turned from my song sheet to find myself looking at a beautiful little girl in a purple velvet dress with a green satin ribbon around her waist.

The event also serves to renew my Christian faith, as we sing the carols I have been a part of as a chorister since I was a child. Like many of the other guests there, I know every carol, every verse, and I know my parts (bass).

"O, come with us, abide with us, our Lord, Emmanuel..."

"The dear Christ enters in..."

"I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky..."

THIS YEAR MARKED a special occasion for me, even beyond the usual celebration of Jesus's birth. I had, except for an occasional run to a store or the library, not left the house literally for months, I have been so sick, and I am still stunningly weak.

Those of you who saw the New England Patriots-New York Jets game know what the weather was like here: absolutely filthy, with snow heaped up in banks several feet deep, the plows still working, and freezing rain blowing sideways. My walk from the street to the Wakemans' door terrified me on my trembling legs.

So the party meant my first time out, my first social visit of any kind in months. As I sat by the fire singing, I would occasionally choke up. "My last Christmas," I kept thinking. It might be my last. How do you reconcile that joy with the prospect of that grief, of that ultimate leave-taking?

The holiday itself provides the answer. Jesus came in to the world to leave it, in agony, so that we should not have to be afraid to do so. We celebrate His birth every year because God gave us a child, so that divinity might touch our hearts -- not our minds.

My wife sits near me, with her glistening chestnut hair, wearing a red sweater and black trousers, a wonderful color combination for her. My son Joe likes buffet parties; he finds the Cheetos and the shrimp and the Coke and acts like an idiot.

Wendy plays her gleaming black Steinway. "Some people have Porsches. I have my piano," she says. People come and go, and the harmonies swell and fade with voices added and subtracted. As the Episcopal service of baptism says, I am sealed as Christ's own forever.

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.

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Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.