On Saturday night, I attended the Washington Revels Christmas extravaganza down at George Washington University in D.C. The Revels were founded in 1971 by musician, educator and author John Langstaff to celebrate the seasons in performance through the power of traditional song, dance, storytelling and ritual from cultures around the world. I think they are in 10 U.S. cities. When I was a child, my family went to see the Revels’ Victorian Christmas in San Francisco a few times. I never forgot it!
If you’ve never been, a Revels production brings a volunteer chorus of children and adults and professional actors, musicians, designers, and directors into community. At each performance, this community invites the audience to join it. The audience always accepts the invitation, to make noises, to sing carols, to join hands with strangers and dance. Audience participation is the hallmark of Revels.
The D.C. Christmas Revels this year focused on the theme of an Italian Renaissance Christmas and the lead character was none other than Leonardo DaVinci! It was a wonderful program that got all 600 guests singing “Dona Nobis Pacem” and dancing in the aisles to “The Lord of the Dance.” This particular performance mixed a celebration of the Winter Solstice with traditional Christmas carols and the peculiar magic that was the Italian Renaissance. (You can see the wonderful performance program here.)
During the performance, “Leonardo” recited this 500-year-old excerpt from a letter written by Franciscan Giovanni Giocando on Christmas Eve. I thought it was beautiful. I hope you enjoy it also.
“I salute you. I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give you which you have not. But there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see. And to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look! Life is so generous a giver. But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you.
Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there. The gift is there and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Your joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts. Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering, that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it; that is all! But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country home. And so, at this time, I greet you, not quite as the world sends greetings, but with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and shadows flee away.”–Fra Giovanni Giocando (“A Letter to the Most Illustrious the Contessina Allagia degli Aldobrandeschi, Written Christmas Eve Anno Domini 1513”)