Paul Vasile is a interim/transitional church musician, consultant, and composer based in New York City. He has been a Music that Makes Community presenter since 2011 and now serves as MMC's Executive Director.
Several years ago, I hosted my first Winter Solstice gathering. It had been a season of loss and transition and I didn't feel especially cheery or comfortable approaching the holidays. Adding to the uneasiness, my ministry as a church musician asked me to give my best to liturgies and concerts that brought hope, peace and joy to others. But I just wasn't feeling it.
So I gathered a group of close friends in my apartment on the longest night of the year. We prayed, we sat in silence, we shared a simple dinner of homemade soup, and we sang. It wasn't more than a hymn and a few short chants but there was something tender and beautiful in our voices. Our breathing softened as we filled the room with sound, making space for the unsettled and difficult parts of our lives. I think we left with a little more strength for the journey, with a measure of grace for the days ahead. I know I did.
The winter season can be challenging for many of us. The short days and long nights may cause us to tend inward, even toward spaces of lethargy and depression. For others, the holidays are freighted with family dynamics and conflicts that are hard to negotiate. Others may be grieving the loss of a beloved person or are far from family, friends or loved ones. And this year, anxiety and fear are surging in face of terrifying political and social change.
Rather than push through these difficult spaces alone, what would it be like to sing through them together? Claiming music's power to center us, to integrate and mend the frayed strands of our lives, to give voice to heartfelt prayer, to awaken what is dormant within us, I wonder if singing in community can help us find comfort and hope during these long days of winter. Perhaps singing together can even help us claim the dark as a gift, as a space of tenderness and intimacy, of deepening awareness, growth and healing.
Whether your faith community offers a Longest Night/Blue Christmas Service or you'll be part of a Solstice Sing, here is a list of songs that you can sing with others as well as some resources to help you mark the longest night of the year. Additions to the list are most welcome in the comments below.
Christ Be With Me/You/Us - Ruth Cunningham
Confitemini Dominum/Come and Fill Our Hearts - Taizé Community
Don't Be Afraid - John Bell
How Can I Keep from Singing? - Robert Lowry
Jewels - Barbara McAfee
Khudaya Rehem Ker/Have Mercy on Us, Lord - Pakistan
Light and Darkness - composer unknown
Nada te turbe/Nothing Can Trouble - Taizé Community
Peace, Perfect Peace - Robinson McClellan
The Song and the Silence - Marty Haugen (the refrain begins at 3'23")
This Fire - Laurence Cole
What We Need is Here - Amy McCreath
Within Our Darkest Night - Taizé community
Wait for the Lord - Taizé community
You can find beautiful examples of Longest Night/Blue Christmas liturgies on several denominational websites. Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church has a model liturgy and additional resources that speak to the experienced theology of the service, including essential details that help create a hospitable space.
The worship planning site The Text This Week provides excellent resources and several sample liturgies for Winter Solstice services.
Mental Health Ministries, a faith-based non-profit that works to erase the stigma of mental illness, offers two Blue Christmas liturgies on their website.