Opinion: Finding Meaning


Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men

By Skip Hellewell

You’ve read this before but it deserves repeating: Laguna’s church services are our best-kept secret. You’ll be warmly welcomed, hear an uplifting message, and get a spiritual tune-up. Last Sunday, the Beautiful Wife and I attended a Christmas service that left us feeling good all day.

The service was eclectic. Selected persons were invited to share the story behind their favorite Christmas carol. The carol was then sung, by the person, performers, or the congregation. To begin, the children of the nursery, just two- or three-years old and held by their mothers, sang “Away in a Manger.” The babes-in-arms knew only portions of the song but they sang in sweet, innocent tones as their moms sang back-up. The effect was most moving.

The next song, in contrast, was inspired by a World War II Christmas Eve bombing raid in England, remembered as the Manchester Blitz, that disabled the cathedral and left the city in flames. In a show of English pluck, the citizens gathered and sang Christmas carols as their city burned. A song from that night, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” became one family’s favorite. Another person lived in Islamabad, Pakistan, as a child with her family. The family was musical and they performed for other expat groups, far from home, at Christmas time. A remembered song, “O Holy Night,” was sung by a soloist.

In the late ‘70s, a long-haired rock band singer turned to religion. He was young and stood out in his conservative congregation but they were inspired to invite him to sing a solo in the Christmas program. The song, “The First Noel,” left a deep memory and was repeated by the now-balding singer with his own family, including a long-haired son perhaps repeating his father’s experience. Then, a girl who in high school sang in Capistrano’s Mission Basilica, sang a remembered hymn, “Laudate Dominum,” with its call to praise the Lord.

An old man sporting a black-eye after a fight with a garbage can lid in our recent windstorm, told of traditional French carols and introduced his daughter, a noted opera singer, to perform the songs. Hard to match that, but the next song did. The speaker told of Henry W. Longfellow who during the dark days of the Civil Way, following the death of his beloved wife, wrote a poem, later a carol, with the words, “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth…” but finishes with the promise of “… peace on earth, good will to men.” The family sang, with the closing words sang in dulcet tones by an eleven-year-old grand-niece.

The final song was the classic from the chaos following the Napoleonic wars, “Silent Night,” with its promise of a dawn of redeeming grace. The speaker thought the carols to be prayers ascending to heaven. The service, ended, became more a party and parishioners lingered, visiting, savoring the moment. Peace on earth, good will to men—there’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach”. Email: [email protected]

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