On the third Sunday in Advent, we light the joy candle, and to mark its set-apartness from the other candles, it’s pink. Advent is one of the penitential liturgical seasons (along with Lent), but Advent III is a wonderful reminder that even in a season of hoping, waiting, and preparing, there is plenty to be joyful about NOW, even when the promises of shalom and “everlasting joy” (Is 61:7) are as of yet unfulfilled. I’m finding in my journey here through Advent 2020 a constant reminder of the interdependence of emotions commonly considered “good” and “bad.” Joy is mixed with the pain of oppression is mixed with peace and freedom is found in a Christ-like sacrificial life. I know it’s an entirely human construct to label a feeling “good” or “bad” and that it’s not actually helpful to do so… but this helps me to see how being a human and seeking a wholehearted life (as Brené Brown defines it) REQUIRES leaning in to every emotion and really accepting the experience of feeling it.
This song, Canticle of the Turning, or My Heart Sings out with a Joyful Shout, is found in 15 hymnals, which I guess qualifies it as a hymn, but honestly I’m not so convinced. One of the reasons I chose a recording of this rather than making one for teaching purposes is that the arrangement you find in hymnals leaves some things out, I think. First, you won’t find the ritornello/interlude which provides some much needing breathing/absorbing the lyrics time. You won’t find the rhythm and string instruments (although you are likely to have guitar chords for it, which I think works great… if everyone knows the melody). Following the changing rhythms based on the lyrics is a little difficult unless you can either read music (quickly) or already know this piece, which I think many people do not (my sample size may be a bit small, I’ll admit). The melody is rousing and folk-like, but sometimes does not continue in an established direction, making it harder to pick up in group congregational song, “on the fly.” Despite these critiques, I think this is a fabulous and joyful setting of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) and well worth the study to learn it and present it well.
The marriage of words and music in this song is evident: the vocalists are indeed “singing out”, the instrumentation is rhythmically and harmonically supportive and exciting (JOYFUL!), and the result is an excellent example of a fusion of ideas, styles, and meaning. We look at music from all over the world here on this blog, and in this song the Irish influence is obvious and highly effective. Fortunately, a song doesn’t have to be easy to sing to be worth learning to sing, and a song doesn’t have to be a textbook perfect “hymn” to merit congregational participation 😉 . The combination of joy and the difficulty of waiting is, as a formerly pregnant person myself, a PERFECT subject for Advent III, where our whole season is a way to spiritually ready ourselves for the birth of the tiny baby Jesus. Pre-baby anxiety mixes with joy mixes with love and fear about the world the child will enter (and boy does Mary have some choice words about the injustices of the society she’ll bring Jesus into–see especially Luke 1:51-53). The joy of our pink Advent candle is not the joy of Easter. We are still waiting, after all.* But it is a good counter to any tendency toward despair we might have otherwise.
*A final footnote: I love LOVE the phrase in this hymn, “the world is about to turn.” It emphasizes everything we are talking about here. There’s a certain chaos of unsettledness implied in this phrase, but when combined with the exuberance of the music, sends the message that change, while it can be difficult, is a GOOD thing that we can wait for patiently and joyfully.