As we’ve put together this year’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, we’ve been encouraged to share more about what the festival is, what you can expect, and what you can do to prepare. So here’s my “A little more what” blog to help you navigate those questions.
We describe the background of the original Festival on our website, which talks about the “imaginative approach to worship” in this century-old Christmas Eve service at King’s College in Cambridge, England. When we hosted our first adaptation of the service in my living room four years ago, we’re not sure our guests knew what to expect. We didn’t have a website back then, and also, we weren’t sure either. Hear about the angels and shepherds and manger, sing a few Christmas carols, the usual. And we did that and still do. But as we put the program together, it turned into something different, something more than that.
Our carols are traditional Christmas carols (and you will get to sing), but they encompass also other responses to the passages and the broader story of Christ’s birth at the intersection of art, spirituality, and community.
As we begin planning the Festival, we find it helpful to start with a simple conversation, usually held where beer also can be found. It is a chance to check in with one another: what is going on? what are you reading or listening to these days? what are you excited about? what are you struggling with? The questions start personal and then extend outward to those around us, to our community. From this conversation and others with friends and family and our fellow artist-collaborators, a filter emerges, a theme or two that focuses our attention, guides our thinking, and inspires our art as we set to reading the lessons anew and responding to them.
It was in this place, then, that we found the question at the heart of this year’s Festival: “what happens when you ask the question, ‘what is true?’” This theme, this question, we explore from a number of perspectives, held lovingly in the context of this extended Nativity story.
Inspired by this theme, this “what happens when you ask the question, ‘what is true?’” we offer to you the meditations of our hearts and minds, our spirits and bodies, as we have interpreted it. We acknowledge that the questioning we entertain this year may not be relevant to you in a season of confidence and abundance of faith, or a luxury you can afford in a season of struggle and hardship. We acknowledge that some of the questions raised may be startlingly uncomfortable for some of us. On the other hand, we acknowledge that the traditional texts and Christmas carols, comfortable for some, may be uncomfortable for others.
Our goal is neither comfort nor discomfort, per se, but space. We seek to create a space where each of us may find something new, fresh, timeless, and true in the story of Christ’s birth. Whether you are in a strong and confident place in your faith, whether you are deconstructing that faith, whether you have moved through a deconstruction and reclaimed your faith or some piece of it, whether you have walked away from your faith, whether you come from an altogether different faith or no faith tradition at all, we welcome you into this space, and pray you might find something of beauty and value to you here.
Join us as we explore this question in the context of the Advent season, in the context of anticipation, in the context of me and you and us today.
And while we’re here, I’ll share with you a favorite source of inspiration and rest this time of year: The Advent Project at Biola University’s Center for Christianity, Culture, and the Arts. This daily Advent devotional uses art, music, and poetry to explore scriptural passages and themes relevant to the season, an approach altogether near and dear to our hearts. Check it out. If nothing I wrote above made any sense, this at least might give you a glimpse of what you can expect on Saturday, December 15 at our fifth annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.
But only a glimpse. A little more what.