Sunday, November 16, 2008


The leaves are mostly gone. Not gone, actually, just somewhere else: they're on the ground now, not on the trees, and, sure, that's obvious, but it's also something I repeatedly forget. What we can't see isn't necessarily absent; it just may be elsewhere, or otherwise, than it was. Rosie Thomas, this Sunday morning, is whispering her version of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," with a new, minimalist melody, and--is this even possible?--more melancholy than the original. But, no, melancholy is wrong; melancholy means refusal, resistance, and this is a song about rejoicing, even if that hushed, slightly trembling voice at the beginning of the song--before a whole chorus of Rosies joins in toward the end, with the traditional melody as a counterpoint to the first few verses--seems to doubt, seems a little reluctant to rejoice, or to tell anyone else to do so.

There's something presumptuous, after all, about telling others to have a good time, to be happy. (A community of bloggers I occasionally follow has recently been the site of hot debate around this very question: is affirmation alienating?) But this command--rejoice!--is, nonetheless, at the heart of the advent hymn, and what might save it from falling into the trap of, say, the service professional who tells you to enjoy your meal or your movie--and whose own lack of enjoyment is probably embedded in the command--is its audience: after all, the hymn is set up as an entreaty to the one who's coming, as a kind of summoning spell, and "Rejoice!" marks the turn from Emmanuel to Israel, marks the turn from what (or who) is being waited for to the community doing the waiting. In other words, this is an equivocal rejoicing; it's something that initially seems to be demanded of the very cause for rejoicing (what would it mean to tell Christ to rejoice?) and only subsequently, almost belatedly, opens onto the folks whose waiting will be suspended by joy. It seems less presumptuous to tell someone to rejoice if the cause of joy is also subject to that imperative--if, to be frank, he's got to be at least as happy to see you as you are to see him--and if joy itself is unthinkable without waiting. There is no immediate rejoicing, no rejoicing alone or right now, but neither is it infinitely deferred. Israel mourns; it isn't melancholy. The leaves aren't gone; they're at the base of the trees, as some snow starts to fall--just a stray flurry, or, wait, are those more leaves?--and more will be coming. Always more.