Each December, we’d pull down the folded attic stair from the carport ceiling to unpack the decorations. Usually, one of us kids would climb the creaking wobbly ladder into the chilly cramped space to tug at cardboard boxes made flimsy by years of use. Which one has the lights in it? What treasures will we exhume from this garret cavern that we haven’t seen or thought of in nearly twelve months?
One of the oddest of those seasonal markers from my childhood was a weird silver ball. It was plastic and a little larger than a softball, but ornate like some fantastical faerie orb wrought by good elves under twilight. It plugged into the wall, and its sole purpose was to recede into a corner of the living room, maybe behind a couch or under a side table and… sing. This odd silvan orb enchanted the whole of the room with a secret song of tree-birds almost as if from beyond the reaches of earth. Or maybe the orb itself was like a small world, a song-spore, story-shaped – a spherical threshold over which passed a whispered song, ‘breathed through silver’, a thrice-holy beckoning to any child with ears to hear.
Christmas would come (very slowly then) and go. Another year would ebb and flow. I’d forget the Little Silver Orb. Then we’d climb the swaying ladder again into the attic and unfurl mounds of ancient tissue to reveal a family history vested in etched brass ornaments (one for each child’s birth), dingy crocheted snowflakes, and a hundred other palm-sized memorials of a family’s life together through time. We’d hang them on the spruce my dad would have brought from The Farm at Highpoint. He would have had his eye out for a tree over the months leading up to December as he, a tree farmer, walked in his own silvan realm.
Then somewhere amid the chaos of paper trappings the Silver Song-Orb would surface. The silver coating worn through in places with years of handling, we’d plug it in again and welcome its otherworldly music that etched in alien calligraphy a script that would curl and flourish and encompass us. I remember very few of the presents I wanted as a child; why do I remember this strange (in reality, chintzy) ornament?
Why does it haunt me with a holy-haunting?
We are ever on the edge. There’s a galloping host in the distance though all we can detect at present are dull hints in the throbbing earth beneath us. Light reaches through leaves or kindles winter grasses in the late afternoon, and we wonder whether matter itself may suddenly burst. It’s enough to make even this stone crack and cry out. Every human soul is held in the strange cell of itself… listening, awaiting the breaking in of seed-song of the God who is love. Hidden in the corner of our ordinary living rooms, maybe behind the couch or under a side table or tucked away in a darkened garret, is a herald at the threshold, and the God-spell is spilling over into this world like the fog-fingers of a cloud-giant climbing over a crest of mountains to bless by its witness the dawn-drenched valleys.
Some kid somewhere still follows the lead, a dull pencil scrawling across the the paper; the faint lines read like an old myth writ upon the bones of the world. That child, thankfully, is foolish enough to hope that the silver song-orb will one day send its music to every corner of the cosmos making of all things a Holiday filled to overflowing with the holy-haunted tale of evil’s utter end.
For now, we listen and wait together to be swaddled in the rags of song from another world. We wait for this world to crack its husk. For the light to reach through and ignite us like the winter grass. For the Star of Bethlehem to come streaming like a comet blasting past the cross-beams we have nailed up to the sky to hold heaven at bay, making us to be truly with the God who is already truly with us.
The hoofbeats we wondered whether we had really heard at all, will arrive. In the end, they will have been the very ground of our being throbbing in long heartache for our heart’s true mate: every one of us a singing gate of pearl, flung wide that the King may enter.
Matthew Clark is a singer, songwriter, and storyteller from Mississippi where he lives with his brother Sam, a ceramic artist. Each Fall he sets out in his homemade tiny-house-on-wheels named Vandalf the White to play concerts in churches and homes all over the country. Matthew is a lover of words, music, coffee, and conversations. Currently (and slowly) he is studying the interlacing of Theology and the Imagination at Fuller Seminary, while writing new songs for his next recording project. Matthew has several albums available at his website (www.matthewclark.net), including a Bible walk-through sequence called “Bright Came the World from His Mouth”, and a collection of songs celebrating God’s presence in the ordinary called “Beautiful Secret Life”.