I may have three essays to finish (20,000 words all told), two exams to study myself silly for, and you know, laundry to do and floors to clean, but I was up and out the door at 5:30 today with the birds singing me down the streets. May Morning in Oxford is a spectacle not to be missed, a child-hearted festival that makes me want to laugh and dance all at once. And let us be honest, that’s exactly what all the Morris dancers on the street do.
I joined the restless, happy crowd as the sky blushed with dawn and right at the stroke of 6, the Magdalen College choir raised their lovely voices in a hymn sung on the top of the Magdalen College Tower for centuries. And the crowd hushed (mostly, helped by vigorous ‘shusshing’!) to hear the woven harmonies raised to open the merry month of May:
If you’ve never heard of Oxford’s May Morning, go here for the BBC ‘s take on this 500-year-old tradition.
But the gist of this delightful festival day is that at dawn on the 1st of May, the Magdalene College choir welcomes the spring with the Hymnus Eucharisticus, a song of praise lifted to God at start of the joyous May season. It’s sung in Latin, but here’s the first verse:
We worship you, O God the Father,
we offer you our praise,
for you nourish our bodies,
and minds with heavenly grace…
And then, a vividly imaged blessing is said, evoking the luxuriant beauty of spring and asking that it spur us to love and grace… or something close to that. I’ve searched and searched and can’t find the text. But the pith of it made my heart swell with thanks for the beauty of the earth today, for the wholeness always on its way to find us even here in the broken place. And it reminded me of this gorgeous tapestry that I found last week and have been waiting to show you:
This is by Pauline Baynes, the original illustrator of The Chronicles of Narnia. Look at it! It’s the whole of creation in redeemed dance! It reminds me so richly of the ending to C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra, where he describes the great music and harmony of all living creatures in an unfallen world. This circled dance is the original reality, and its the one we’re journeying toward in Christ. It’s a feast for heart and eye.
Friends, may the first morning of merry May set you dancing in heart and body.
And now, I really do have to go act like a responsible student again…