Updated: Dec 23, 2022
Take a knee, or two!
By Kerry Zagarella
I can easily recall from my childhood the majesty of a Christmas Eve midnight mass. The combination of midnight fatigue and hulk-like Christmas energy, with a touch of communal celebration, which for an extrovert like myself is heavenly, made the evening unearthly, celestial. Midnight Mass is actually an excellent marketing plan to increase parishioners! It is like a Black Friday kind of hysteria. A church filled with a community of believers, exhausted, yet eager to participate in their faith and celebration together. Gather the faithful to reaffirm the light! Of course for the children, there was the addition of complete and utter exaltation of Santa Claus making his travels in that one sleigh around the world. Presents for everyone! No questions asked. I believe! My devotion to God and Santa were one in the same and on Christmas Night it all came together in a tsunami of faith. All those prayers paid off with the promise of something tangible from God’s good friend, Saint Nicolas. Santa Claus.
The pulsating church organ in the balcony and the singers throughout the church felt like we sat with angels. We didn’t need faith! We could feel the presence. Midnight Mass made it clear that something bigger was watching over all of us. The paintings and statues on loan from heaven. Every pew, every bench, every kneeler had willing singers professing their devotion, joining in song led by the earnest church choir.
One song stands out to me from my childhood, and to this day when that song is done right, my knees buckle a bit as my soul hums, “Oh Holy Night”. The power of this song also frightened me. I remember the one line towards the end of the song. The destination of every note and word moves to this one instant of collective exhalation, sung by the congregation, “Fall on your knees, oh hear the angels voices, oh night, night divine.” Honestly, at those moments in church, when everything and everyone was vibrating with song, I was not thinking about Santa Claus. I was only thinking of the highest power of God within each of us as individuals and collectively. My childhood is wrapped in Catholicism. We always went to church. I believed every story verbatim, in the beginning. I didn’t need to see the burning bush, or water turned to wine to have faith. I knew it all happened and there was no room for metaphor or story, this was real.
It’s different for me now. I don’t have that type of relationship with organized religion. I envy those who do. But that lyric still reminds me of a greater power. I embrace the “fall on your knees” message as an act of reverence to our connections. Way back in 2006 there was a great tv show called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Check it out if you haven’t seen it. In one of the episodes, actress Sarah Paulson’s character, Harriet Hayes kneels to pray for a colleague’s brother captured by terrorists. Bradley Whitford’s character mocks her and tells her that he isn’t going to kneel to any god. She corrects him, telling him she isn’t kneeling for God. She is kneeling for herself. Kneeling being a reminder. The scene is insightful into the depth and power of Hayes' faith.
My church has been relocated to the forest and fields, the trees and the complicated networks of fungi growing on them, in them, below them. There is an abundance of miracles surrounding us, if we stop and look. I am brought to my knees by the beauty and interconnectedness of nature and our place in it. When we stop and listen to the wind while it shakes the frozen tree branches together; that clacking is a miracle. Or the optimistic voice of the small wren, singing its heart out with its head and tail towards the sky. A small hollowed boned body arching in song, welcoming a good day. Kindness and beauty can weaken the knees too. A friend who simply helps you without being asked; a love given, tangible.
We live in a noisy world, inside and out! A busy world that is so accustomed to hatred and war being the only problem solving options. Our planet’s health, gun violence and ignorance, contribute to the seemingly never ending list of society's ills. Did I mention earth stopping killer viruses?! We have to consciously balance these harsh realities with the more discrete, softer truths of unconditional love, miraculous moments and natural wonders. Take a knee, or two, to examine that small persistent flower bursting from the darkness below the concrete with centuries of DNA empowering the journey up and out towards the light. Sometimes just finding your lost phone or keys can warrant a knee, or two, of gratitude; a thankfulness of the moment. We can muffle the noise of the daily conveyor belt. We can slow our pace, even just momentarily, to see, to hear, to feel.
I hope you have a long list of knee buckling moments in your day. Weak knees can be contagious! Be careful, once you start seeing miracles and finding hope in the natural world, you will see more and more of it. Find your song and share it! We need you too!
I hope you fall to your knees.