Advent day 10: ..so said he into the night wind.
Linked below is a 2009 arrangement of ‘Gabriel’s message’ performed by Sting . The song itself is quite old, appearing in 1890’s carol collections. Sting originally released it in 1985 with a discernible ‘’pop’’ texture. It was then redone for his 2009 album ‘If on a winter’s night’.
I own the album, and have purchased a few over the years to give as gift. For a Christmas album, I find it is as unique as Native American, Bill Millers 2003 album: ‘A Sacred Gift’.
Sting utilises medieval instruments in the song structure. The result is a resounding, organic masterpiece. Incorporating the signature whisper of his vocal abilities with the instrumentation is what gives this album longevity. These songs are about real people, real life and real experiences.
In recent years my opinion about Sting-the-agnostic has changed. Since listening to his later work there is a semblance to the faith and expression which thunders out from Johnny Cash and U2’s Bono.
However, this is a conclusion overshadowed by a discernible resistance to any mention of the name Jesus the Christ. ‘If on a winter’s night’’ is primarily about winter, and its emphasis is not on Jesus Christ, it is on Mary. Hence, the few and very carefully selected carols. The album also holds true to Sting’s Anglican/ Catholic upbringing. It is fair suggest that his focus on Mary reflects his theology. For example: in his 2009 book ‘Broken Music’ he writes:
‘Since I was a child I’ve found it easier to conjure up the female deity in my imagination, one that the church was wise enough not to proscribe in the patriarchal, misogynistic purge that all but eradicated the worship of the goddess. Mary the Star of the Sea became my icon as a child, floating above the ocean in her blue veil, her head ringed by stars and tilted gently to one side, her eyes modestly downcast as if in thought’[i].
Mary was important. Her role is beyond doubt, a remarkable one. Although Mary is to be recognised, the Advent narrative calls the world to remember God in the manger[ii]; and His Word embodied in the flesh of the man Jesus, who, is also the Christ.
In consideration of the confused ‘’post-Christian’’ context that the Christian liturgical calendar now finds itself in. Sting’s judgement here is understandable. However, this does not seem to be a case of ”He who pays the piper calls the tune”. Sting makes it clear that he wrestles internally with the concepts found in the Biblical narrative, for instance:
It (the virgin birth) just seems like one miracle too many[iii].
Absent from the album is a real sense of proclamation that Christ is the Lord. It is as if Sting has chosen to only go half way in reaching for the essence of the advent narrative. Perhaps he wants to steer clear of the ”Christian musician” straightjacket? Maybe he is simply just flirting with the Christian audience? Either way Sting seems to end up overstating the significance of Mary. Inadvertently steering around the manger, stopping short of a clear confession of Jesus, not only as the Christ, but also as Gift. It is a curious thing that, in his book he makes the statement:
There is a terrible sadness in a kind gift that is unappreciated, unwanted, and misunderstood[iv].
If his words of wisdom here are applied to the Christmas declaration of God’s grace as the gift of relationship so offered in Jesus Christ, perhaps there is an unavoidable, sad irony, that exposes itself. Nevertheless, despite the apparent limitations. This album is a worthy contribution to the playlist of any who are aligned with the advent journey.
[this is not a paid review]
[i] Sting, 2009 Broken Music Random House Publishing Group. Kindle for PC Ed. pp. 329-330
[ii] Barth, K. 1938 The Doctrine of the Word of God, CD:1.2:38 Hendrickson Publishers
[iii]Sting, 2009 Broken Music Random House Publishing Group. Kindle for PC Ed. p.330
[iv]ibid,. p.378, For context : Sting reflects on a Christmas experience. The statement is full of learned wisdom and has lots of potential if applied theologically.