Some believe that the service of Lessons and Carols began after World War I when a military chaplain, according to the story, wanted to make a holiday service more interesting and interactive. It is a great story but regretfully, it is untrue. Programs from 1880 exist from a Service of Lessons and Carols that was held during the Advent season. The reality of a simple service of Biblical readings and carols is not as interesting or as great a story as the one with the military chaplain. What really matters, though, is neither story but the service itself. It is a time of reading and then musical prayer, hymns that have become known as carols.
A carol is a song of joy – nothing more and nothing less. Some are ballads and others are historic chants. And if you are thinking that not all seem “joyous”, you’d be right. Sometimes joy comes in surprising packages.
We often want to make prayer something more than it really is. We try to dress it up with formulas and fancy words. There are some really lovely, eloquent prayers out there and they have merit. We should not discount the simple prayers, however. They, too, have their merit.
As we enter the last few days of Advent, I will post some prayers per several requests. I would love to hear some of your favorites and will happily post those that indicate they would like to have them posted. Please share, if you feel so moved.
During this time of caroling, we often forget exactly what the carols are. Earlier I called them musical prayers and I firmly believe that all hymns are just that. More this weekend on music and prayer but for now, think about the hymns you sing and look at them as prayers, please. Music is one of my daily spiritual practices, whether choral or instrumental, whether in a group or by myself.
At its very beginning, the carol was a round dance, a song sung for people for people to move and dance. A round dance also has ties to prayer. We think of round dances as square dancing or clogging and both of those art forms are examples of round dances. However, the earliest round dances are from the bee community. Who knew?
The round dance describes a specific type of communication of honey bees. With all their ability to defy the laws of aerodynamics in flying, the bee cannot speak. The scout or forager member of the colony returns and communicates the location of food sources by dancing. A round dance indicates nearby food while a different type of dance means food is farther away.
We also have different prayers for individual praying and for group praying. Some denominations and spiritualities have set prayers that are said in communion. There are also prayers which are meant to be said by just one person, in solitude and meditation. The corporate prayers tend to be more formal while the individual prayers are more heartfelt and simplistic.
Both types of prayers have meaning. Like the story about the origin of the Service of Lessons and Carols, there is interest but really, the origin has no bearing on the true meaning or value of the service. What matters is our participation, our sincerity, our taking part in the activity.
Prayer is an interactive event and we need to be present in it, no matter what form it takes. One of my favorite prayers comes from the Chinook tribe in the northwest part of North America. It references our part of a greater whole and the connection we all have one with another.
“May all I say and all I think be in harmony with Thee. God within me; God beyond me.”