I had the opportunity to attend two different Advent lessons and carols services yesterday. In the one last night, the congregation sang “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” I did a decent job keeping the beat for the first two verses. The third verse got me, though. And I was reminded of a recent post by James K. A. Smith about the song and what it’s rhythm can teach us about waiting. Upon recently singing it at church himself, Smith reflects:
What struck me is how I–and to some extent, our congregation, I think–kept getting hung up on those third half notes (in the first stanza on “from,” “of,” “when,” etc.). It’s like our sonic habits are used to a certain cadence and tempo that keep things moving. At some unconscious level, we expect the next note to come more quickly. We’re feeling stretched and a bit impatient by those two half notes already and when the third arrives we’re sonically impatient. Our inner tempo, trained by the cadences of a frenetic pace that always gets its way, perturbedly tells our tongues: “C’mon already–let’s get this show on the road! I haven’t got all day.” We want a quarter note but the hymn hangs us up on that third half note over and over again. We’re asked to sing another half note in a quarter note world.
Which is precisely why the tune of the hymn is its own kind of Advent discipline. The notes are teaching us to wait, to experience the impatience of waiting (again!) for the Judge who is coming–who does “not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy; with justice he will give decision for the poor of the earth” (Is. 11:3-4).
This season of waiting is almost over, of course. Come Sunday, the season will shift and change. And while most people will be done with Christmas when they go to sleep next Sunday night, there will be other who have waiting long and are ready to celebrate for more than one day.
(image from mason.gmu.edu)