A Jingle Bells Grace

This column was the featured column on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on December 17, 2007.
About six weeks ago, I became the foster parent of a sixteen year old refugee from Burma. She’s a delightful kid. She smiles a lot and she’s helpful around the house. She likes my children and they like her.

But she doesn’t speak English, in fact, she doesn’t even speak Burmese. She speaks an obscure dialect of a language that almost no one outside of northwest Burma understands. Her hometown has no automobiles, no running water, no electricity, and very little contact with the outside world. I suspect that she can communicate fluently only with people from her town, and as far as I can tell, the only other person from her town in the United States lives in Michigan.

The other day my foster daughter and I were driving together, listening to the morning show on a local pop music station. In the studio, as guest performers, were members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, who sang a rousing version of “Jingle Bells.” Amazingly, my foster daughter started singing along with the chorus.

She doesn’t speak English, but somehow, she knows Jingle Bells. Go figure.

Now, frequently I complain about the secularization of Christmas, and I confess that I was disappointed when the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus didn’t choose to sing something more overtly spiritual—“Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming,” for example—but when my foster daughter, this young woman from the other side of the world, whose life has been torn apart by the cruelty and sorrow of war, started singing Jingle Bells along with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, it felt like a moment of grace.

If we believe the song of angels, that Christmas is about peace on earth and goodwill among people, and if we believe that peace and goodwill only can happen when folks come together across great barriers and divides, then the voice of an orphan from the mountains of Burma singing even the most secular of holiday songs with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus surely is an expression of what Christmas is all about.

Every year I hear lots of holiday music during the weeks that lead up to Christmas, and some of it is really good music. But this year none will be as beautiful or as powerful as the Jingle Bells duet I heard in my car that morning.

8 thoughts on “A Jingle Bells Grace

  1. Well, that brought a tear to my eye. A wonderful thought for my Christmas this year. I’ll share it with friends outside of Foothill too….
    Thanks Ben. Helen.

  2. And a Blessed Jingle Bells to you, too! Somehow is says more than Happy Holidays.

    Last Sunday morning found me in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico, seated in a pew at St. Paul’s Anglican Church. After the congregation weathered three or four Anglican Advent hymns that defied singing, the service was concluded with a Posada put on by the Church sponsored Head Start Class. Down the center aisle came a short morena wearing angel wings and a glittering halo that matched the shine in her eyes. She was followed by Mary with Jesus in arms, and a very young Joseph with a beard that came from an eyebrow pencil at work.

    These principals were followed by three full-of-the-devil wisemen, shepherds and a host of other celebrants….all beaming as five year olds can do. They sang, they recited verses in both languages. The lost Holy Family settled into the “stable” and as a conclusion to the precious re-enactment of the incarnation tale, we were all invited to sing…..not O Little Town of Bethlehem…..but you guessed it: JINGLE BELLS, jingle bells, JINGLE all the way!

    There wasn’t a dry eye or a cold heart left in the pews of St. Paul’s. We rose to the occasion and in eight parts, slightly off key, we sang our AMEN….with Jingle Bells. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in the new hymnal.

    Blessings on you, Ben! And blessings on your growing family. May your tribe increase! And please number me and my household in your tribe.

  3. Helen and Ronn, Thanks for your posts and thanks for passing the piece along (passing the peace has a different meaning on Sunday, but you know what I mean). I like Las Posadas de Jingle Bells.

    You are both in my tribe and it is an honor!

  4. Thanks for being an inspiration to me. You walk the talk… and your weekly “homilies” are always true to heart and real.

  5. What a lovely account Ben. Wish I was back in CA so I could pay a visit to your lovely family.

    Ian F.

  6. Ian!

    So good to hear from you. Thanks for reading and thanks for your kind words.

    I really hope we can meet up next time the Feavearyear clan in is CA.

    Give my my best to Robynne and the kids.



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