Veni Emmanuel

In the Christian church, the new year – the liturgical year – begins this coming Sunday with a four week journey known as Advent. It’s often described as a time of waiting, watching, and hoping, and a season when we might try to quiet our minds in the midst of the chaos around us, but living in a state of anticipation and also with a quiet mind seem to be at odds with each other. Somehow we have to accept that Advent is a season of duality. A time of joy and penance, beginnings and end times, the comfort of God’s word and the discomfort of the prophets’ messages, images of light and darkness.

I love the hymns of Advent, and no hymn better captures the two sides of Advent than O come, o come Emmanuel, sometimes known by its Latin name, Veni emmanuel. Its text is built on the ancient words of the “O Antiphons” which were sung before and after the chanting of Mary’s Magnificat in the seven days preceding Christmas Eve (hence the dates you see before each verse). Mourning in lonely exile (vs 1), we’re asked in the refrain to “Rejoice!”

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, the first line of the Magnificat, is Mary’s brave response to God’s plan for her to have a child, one who will be both human and divine.


Each verse of Veni Emmanuel (#56 in The Hymnal 1982) begins with a salutation, in the form of a name for God, and then an invitation for each of these aspects of God to come into our lives. An invitation is meaningless, of course, unless the door has been left open, so don’t sing this beautiful hymn unless your heart is open to change!

O Sapienta (v. 2)  O come, wisdom, and show us a path towards knowledge

O Adonai (v. 3) O come, Lord of might, and with an outstretched arm, save us

O Radix Jesse (v. 4)  O come, branch of Jesse’s tree, and be a sign of God’s love

O Clavis David  (v. 5)  O come, Key of David, and open the gates of life and set us free

O Oriens (v. 6)   O come, Radiant Light, and shine on those who sit in darkness

O Rex gentium (v. 7)   O come, King of all people, and end our sad divisions

O Emmanuel  (vss 1 and 8)  O come, Emmanuel, and dwell among us

In the complexity of this life, may we discover truth somewhere in the middle of all the dichotomies of Advent. Anticipation and peacefulness. Questions and answers. Joy and penance. Comfort and discomfort. And in all of that, may it be a journey towards light and rebirth, a triumph of dreams and hopes over our knowledge of life’s dark places.

Veni Emmanuel,


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This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of connections between old and new.

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Taize: A Community of Prayer

A service of music and prayers in the style of Taizé, this Sunday, November 5 at
6:30 pm at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Norwood Parish.

Born out of wartime suffering in 1940, a Reformed Protestant from Switzerland, Brother Roger, founded a small community of men committed to a life of service and prayer among the poverty and fear of occupied France.  He hoped the monks of this community would become “signs of the presence of Christ” and “bearers of joy.” In later years Catholics and Anglicans joined the Reformed members, and Taizé now lives into Brother Roger’s ecumenical vision in their home in the Burgundy region of France, and in their satellite communities around the world.

Since the mid-1960’s the community of Taizé (pronounced teh-ZAY) has become a pilgrimage site for mostly young people, with nearly 100,000 visitors each year now.  The music of Taizé sprang from a desire to welcome these pilgrims during worship with a simple form of chanted prayer which could reach across the many languages and religions represented by the pilgrims. Simple phrases and harmonies, repeated, sometimes in canon, became another way to pray and connect with God.

As with chanting in any spiritual tradition, the sound of the human voice sends vibrations through the body, permeating all of our cells, becoming a practice which calms the mind and frees us to listen more closely for God’s voice. The chants can be sung in many languages, but are often set with words in Latin.  As a language which belongs to no one, Latin can be a language which is available to everyone. Simply knowing that the words are holy, that they often come from the psalms or recall the life and works of Jesus, can be enough sometimes. Singing in Latin can take our focus off the text, allowing our voice to be more fully in communion with God’s voice.

In the context of an evening service which is, in part, a commemoration of All Saints and All Souls, singing the contemplative chants of Taizé can sometimes take us to a  place of darkness and grief. I hope you will allow the darkness of an evening service to create a feeling of being cocooned by God’s love. Like the healing power of sleep, change, growth, and beauty can emerge from the darkness of a cocoon. And perhaps there will be a moment during the singing when someone finds that they are drawn from their cocoon, into the radiant light of God’s healing touch.

Find five minutes, if you can, to watch this video of photos and music from the Taizé community.  Sit quietly, breathe, be present with God.

Taize-Let nothing disturb you