By Brian Crisp
I Saw the Light
I confess to being one of those people who continually listens to Christmas music beyond the scope of the season. From October through February, iTunes shuffles through offerings from Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas” to Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” to Kathleen Battle’s rendition of “Rise Up, Shepherds” to Alfred Burt’s “Some Children See Him.” These musical offerings may seem as conflicting as the two birth narratives found in Matthew and Luke, but their hearings offer joyful tidings and great pause for reflection. My favorite and least traditional amongst these is Hank Williams, Sr.’s 1948 classic “I Saw the Light.”
The open harmonies and camp-meeting fervor of the song resonate with my Appalachian sensibilities that favor a strong and lilting alto line, an upbeat hand clap, and a wailing bluegrass fiddle. My condo is often filled with me blaring the alto line and dancing a full-on jig at the first note of this song. Despite all this comfort and joy, there is a lyric that cuts sharply into my being: “Then Jesus came like a stranger in the night.”
Although I appreciate a beautiful service and a thoughtful homily, I more readily meet God in dark places with people whose resemblance to me is minuscule: in the early mornings with young people from the Healing Place; at dusk walking down Boylan and speaking with the homeless person; answering the late-night call of a crisis phone line as the parents of a young transgender person seek solace and understanding; and eating at an elegant dinner table surrounded by people who do not share my political persuasions. In these moments, I feel that grounding that says “fear not, good news is for all people” and I look into the stranger’s eyes and see them, myself, and God, three as one. Praise the Lord, indeed, I saw the light.