Winter Solstice Sheds Light on the Spirit

Leaving the intensity of Rockefeller Center with its Christmas fanfare of lit trees and angels, giant snowflakes sliding down skyscrapers, jolly music, vast throng of revelers, and cops, cops, cops, at every turn to protect the commercial heart of Christmas from the bad guys, we made our way to New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine to hear Paul Winter's 27th Annual Winter Solstice. There we saw no cops--just nice Episcopaleans handing out programs and taking tickets.

We found a better world right inside this one, the wide open heart of Christmas outside the shopping mecca of New York City. St John's was packed with 900 listeners who closed their eyes in this darkened house of God and opened their hearts, the better to see, hear, and feel the Spirit in the magnificent music of the Paul Winter Consort and Renato Braz, a musician and singer from Brazil.

There was no better place to be. Before the concert began, I thought how the cathedral builders went about their work with a vision of humanity's search for God. Cathedrals reach up--this one rises 150 feet--but they are limited. For all their grandeur, they are limited--but the Spirit is not. Winter's music suggests that vastness. Braz's tender and beautiful voice in that strong and solid building--it's rock, after all--suggested the strength and tenderness that is God.

The concert begins with simple music--the primal conch shell, drums--and becomes more and more complex until we're in sharing Bach's spiritual journey and then with tremendous freedom and joy sharing in a Brazilian version of jingle bells and, finally, back to the simple music of howling dogs. Winter's music is about the Spirit--the one Spirit through which we live, and move and have our being, whether we are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist.... How we come to know that Spirit reflects who we are and is important and beautiful, but the greater truth is that we are one in the Spirit. We all yearn for, and love, the light.

Talking about music is like talking about poetry. You have to be in it and live it. The Solstice concert will be available Connecticut Public Radio on Christmas, Monday, December 25, from 7 to 9 p.m. Outside Connecticut, check local listings with your nearest NPR member station. At and, you'll find a list of some NPR stations carrying or streaming the program.