It was a festive night to walk through the city on that first December Saturday. The festive lights in Greektown welcomed the balmy fresh air as green, and red lights lit the skyline above our heads as we walked toward the church anticipating the performance, a sold-out Christmas concert. Friendly faces and warm hands welcomed us with enthusiasm as we journeyed up the front steps of the church and continued inside and up to find seats in the choir loft.
With the pews of the church full and plump with a holiday crowd, my niece and I found space deep in the upper back seats of the loft with a restricted view of the altar packed with musicians and performers. Instead, our eyes eased on the stillness of Christmas trees and saints standing high above the altar and pews. Maybe this night was more about what we would hear than see and the surprise in the unexpected gift of grace.
After the lights dimmed, musical life was the source of light for the next 90 minutes. Orchestral strings, brass, percussion, and more danced together as a choir nested among them with sweet melodies familiar to the season. Two operatic voices, one male and one female, had me sitting on the edge of the pew intoxicating me with unbelievable soulful energy. Stretching to get a glimpse of these gifted performers between the shoulders of the two people sitting in front of me, I turned back to look at my niece to avoid falling into them. While my niece and I snuggled together both wide-eyed and lifted high in spirit, I also had thoughts of nostalgia of how my mom would have loved this concert. How I wouldn't be able to call her to tell her about it and how much she would appreciate hearing about our night. How in the past, I was the little girl whose mother took her to events exposing her to the arts. But on this night, I was to be the grown-up sharing an exceptional experience with someone younger, yet I still felt like a child.
As I sat with memories of my mom and anticipation of the future 1st celebrations and holidays after her death, a voice began to sing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." My niece and I locked eyes.
"His voice," she said.
"Wow," was all I could say.
We couldn't see him, but we heard his voice coming from somewhere on the first floor of the sanctuary. Gentle. Warm. Calm. Soft. Compassionate. Father-like. Christ-like. Pastoral. Empathetic. Beautiful.
I've heard this song year after year. Old versions from iconic singers. Revised lyrics from newer musicians. But nothing like how this man, a priest actually, presented it. He sang a line that even if I've heard it before, I know I have never really listened and felt it settle in my heart like this night.
Someday soon we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now
"Did he say muddle?" I asked myself.
He sure did. When I looked up the lyrics of this song, I found Frank Sinatra's (the muddle verse doesn't exist), Sam Smith's (revised lyrics with new words throughout), and then there are the original lyrics by Judy Garland. Yes, these are the lyrics the priest sang on that beautiful Saturday night. He didn't leave anything out. He didn't try to sugarcoat the song by avoiding to mention what might be difficult. He didn't replace words to pressure one into having the expectation that only joy exists at Christmastime or any time for that matter. He presented the original and authentic and did it in a way that I bet if I called him up and told him I'm muddling through without my mom (my dad and brother too for that matter), he would take my hand and help me through it with the same gentle voice of that night.
Two words completed that special night with my niece and illuminated the path of hope. Muddle, and now. These two simple words taught me that that evening was our merry little Christmas together, even though it wasn't December 25, and numerous family members didn't surround us. With my mom gone, I was in the middle of navigating the holidays, feeling her absence. And for several weeks after, Judy Garland serenaded me throughout December when I turned on the radio and reminded me to celebrate the holiday of Now intentionally. Had I heard her this many times in years past but hadn't listened? Every time she sweetly sang to me, I also felt the gentle voice whose peace traveled up to the choir loft to meet me where I am.
What I heard in December wasn't solely to help me get through the end of the year holidays. It was a message for everything and anything and every day of the year when I feel my voids. Thank you, gentle voice. When I muddle, I will do so more merrily with an uplifted spirit remembering days of past and celebrate the holiday of Now because of you.
And to you who are reading this, peace and joy to you always. But above all, I wish you a gentle voice of love that will surprise you with delight and be the sparkle when the lights seem dim, and you are muddling through a struggle or a void that exists.