Holiday Concert Invocation (or religion in a pluralistic setting)

A number of people asked me to post the invocation I wrote for our annual holiday concert. I fiddled with it over the break, trying to provide some background to the ideas I express in it, but decided to leave well enough alone. I hope to return to these themes soon. (It’s strange to read these words on the other side of the holidays they preceded.) For the first time in a few years, we held the concert in the Meeting House on the Green rather than in our performing arts space. The program included everything from Handel’s Messiah to Dave Matthews Band to our rousing, all-school rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas. It was a wonderful evening.

Good evening, everyone.

Tonight is a celebration—of our community, of the hard work of the students and faculty who will perform tonight, of the good year we’ve had together as a school and of this holiday season. For most of us, this is the first time we’ve experienced this concert in this space but it is, in many ways, a return to tradition. If you look at your programs, you’ll see a mix of traditional music from this season, especially in the first part, and then performances by our jazz and rock bands followed by two great pieces to launch us into the winter break. Tonight is a night when we remember our founder’s instruction that we have fun. We also remember what it means to be an attentive audience. And as much as you might want to do otherwise, we ask that you refrain from clapping for the entirety of Part I.

And now, an Invocation…To invoke the spirit of this time together.

The spirit of our times is complex and complicated, broken and beautiful. And yet our age so often promises certainty and new discovery. Mystery-and wonder in the face of it- makes us uncomfortable. Yet this is a season of mystery, of miracles and wonder, whether the miracle of a day’s worth of lamp oil lasting for eight days or the miracle of incarnation—of God become flesh. These miraculous claims grate on our modern imaginations. As a community, we gathered here are Muslims, atheists, Jews, agnostics, and Christians, among other traditions, I know, but even those of us who identify with one of those names may not mean the same thing by them. Together, at our best, we search for understanding and clarity… and perhaps that’s what, at our best, we hold in common—we are seekers. There is so much we want to know for sure, with certainty, and one of the great false hopes of the modern age is that we can ever achieve it, at least completely. But we won’t—we won’t have certainty about ultimate things, at least, until the end of our daysand maybe not even then—so we wait, we hope, we search, we remain humble throughout, fellow seekers, confident in our hope and faith and love. We are grateful for modern miracles, for natural and human miracles—the miracles of modern medicine, science and technology; but I, for one, hope that supernatural miracles are true too. And so my prayer for all of us, in this season and always, is that the challenge of miracle and mystery will transform our modern certainty into wonder, beginning with this evening and the stories and fun our musicians will share with us.

And with that I turn it over to our musicians.