The music of Christmas is one of the best parts of the season for me – the spiritual music, at least. I’m not particularly fond of most of the Christmas jingles, though the Charlie Brown Christmas melody never ceases to delight and move me.

Many of my most poignant childhood memories involve music. My mother was a gifted pianist and violinist, and though I never remember hearing her play, all of my family loved music. “Mama Dottie’s” baby grand piano was the centerpiece of our living room, and especially during Christmas we would gather around it to sing Christmas carols, which our dad could chord with vigor. From our church tradition we sang four-part harmony, and in my head I still hear each part of all the old hymns and Christmas carols whenever they’re played.

One musical experience, though, was as baffling as it was beautiful. We lived up the street from a beautiful church building that always reminded me of the Christmas church scenes from Currier & Ives.  The white church with its tall steeple had a pipe organ and an impressive bell tower. I don’t remember ever entering the church until I was an adult, but its mystery and beauty was always captivating.

One cold afternoon close to Christmas I was playing alone in our tree house, which was quite an impressive structure hidden high in a huge old ash tree. I couldn’t have named it then, but the loneliness I felt was oppressive. I remember thinking that all I wanted for Christmas was a mom to share the season. I ached with a desperate misery I didn’t understand and our family wasn’t equipped to address.

Suddenly I heard the sounds of a Christmas carol wafting across the neighborhood. It apparently was coming from the neighborhood church, and I realized the organ music had played before at odd times. This late afternoon as I was watching for my dad’s car lights to break across the driveway, the unmistakable strains of Silent Night floated through the cold darkness. The sound was mystical, both comforting and chilling somehow. As a child, I was certain my mom was singing to me from the heavens.

As an adult, I learned one of the crazy college guys who lived with us would wander down the hill and enter the unlocked church to play the organ. That realistic explanation is immaterial to the enduring magic of that moment as it plays often in my memory, especially during the Christmas season. I felt the unmistakable presence of the Giver who provides “heavenly peace.”

Twenty-five years and a lifetime later, I entered that same church for my first 12 Step meeting for recovering sex addicts. And even after two more decades, when I still sometimes feel lonely or am walking again through a dark place, my heart’s ear turns to the music of the promise in Silent Night: Christ the Savior is born! God is with us in “redeeming grace.”

Marnie C. Ferree