Wednesday, December 22, 2010

True Stories of Heavenly Peace

Dozens of Christmas books come out every year, but some of my favorites are the tried and true ones that I reread each December.  I especially like the true stories that reflect the spirit of Christmas more profoundly than any fictional tale can.  My favorite is Silent Night, the Story of a Song by Hertha Pauli.

Pauli recounts the song’s birth in a small Austrian church on Christmas Eve when Joseph Mohr, a priest, was moved to write a poem. He shared it with his friend Franz Gruber who wrote the music on Christmas Day. The story follows the song’s life in anonymity as a folksong to its royal performance by four poor children in front of the King of Prussia. Only the singing of a trained finch leads the reader and the King’s musical detectives back to the village where Gruber was stunned to learn that his song had traveled farther than he ever had imagined.

But the most fascinating part of the story is that Hertha Pauli wrote it 1943 when Austria was no longer a country unto itself. At the end of the book, she writes, “For years, on each Holy Eve, Silent Night was sung at Hallein under his [Franz Gruber’s grandson’s] baton, in the house where Gruber lived and died, by the choir he founded and trained, to the accompaniment of his own ancient original guitar, played by his grandson, the new organist and choir leader. And every year, this performance was carried round the world by radio – until a day, five years ago [1938], when the land of Austria was wiped off the map and the little song of peace became “undesirable””

That reality chills me, and makes me even more grateful for the gift of song.

I also love Jim Murphy's book Truce that took place on the battlefield in WWI, and the picture book version of the same story by John McCutcheon called Christmas in the Trenches

It's not a coincidence that these all feature the same peaceful song.  It makes me wonder where its magic will be felt this year.  Perhaps it will drift over sand dunes and Afghan mountains, or float along flooded streets, or wrap its warmth around cold shoulders closer to home. I hope you hear it.

Merry Christmas and Sleep in Heavenly Peace!

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