Thursday, June 19, 2014

How a Bad Pun Birthed a New Song - Carolyn Arends

FrontETightCropKnowing how many writers frequent this blog, I thought you might relate to this recent post from my own blog about the serious business of playing with words:
I've always loved puns. I was never particularly adept at schoolyard games, but I could make words play. (You can imagine how popular this made me in grade school.)
For a little stretch his past month, I enjoyed posting a daily pun on my Facebook page and watching my friends cyber-groan.
I know a guy who's addicted to brake fluid. He says he can stop anytime.
I'm reading a book on anti-gravity. I can't put it down.
Don't trust atoms. They make everything up.
I stayed up all night to see where the sun went. Then it dawned on me.
An unexpected thing happened with that last pun. I'm spending these warm days summer working on a Christmas record. It began to, well, dawn on me that at the heart of the  "dawn on me" joke there beat a rather promising song idea.
I started to think about what the first dawn after the birth of Jesus must have been like. I wondered if an exhausted Joseph, holding his adopted newborn in the aftermath of one very strange night, suddenly remembered the words of the prophet Isaiah:
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. - Isaiah 9:2
I found myself writing the following lyrics from Joseph’s perspective:
What was he thinking in the starlight?
Did he have time to think at all?
A carpenter his whole life
Now he was a midwife
And then the shepherds came to call.
When Joseph held the newborn baby
Was the whole meaning still unclear?
A man can get so tired
Even angel choirs
Just leave a ringing in his ears.
Was it all a blur, all too much?
Until at last, the sun came up …

Did it dawn on him
At the moment when
Morning chased the night away?
Did it dawn on him
This was God with him
In the light of Christmas day
At about this stage in the songwriting process, I began to wonder if one can legitimately write a song inspired by a bad pun. I worried for a bit. But then I thought about the fact that what makes a pun work is the delight (or dismay, depending on how you feel about puns) of discovering that one word can mean two (or more) things.
A baby comes. He means disrupted sleep and diaper changes and all the usual baby things. He also, if the angels are to be believed, means Salvation. He is a word - the word - made flesh, come to play among us.
"Is it possible," Frederick Buechner wonders, "to say that it is only when you hear the Gospel as a wild and marvellous joke that you really hear it at all? Heard as anything else, the Gospel is the church’s thing, the preacher’s thing, the lecturer’s thing. Heard as a joke – high and unbidden and ringing with laughter – it can only be God’s thing."
I decided it was OK to write a song based on a pun. And so I wrote verse 2.
Now we put Joseph in the stable
We put the stable on display
A sweet nativity scene
Fragments of an old dream
What kind of difference does it make?
But if that baby in the manger
Came to be Light for everyone
Maybe all the darkness
Deep inside our hearts is
A sign that only he can come
And end at last the tyranny
Of endless night and set us free …

Let it dawn on us
Like the morning sun
Let him chase our night away
Let it dawn on us
This is God with us
In the light of Christmas day
Shortly after I finished writing the song, my friends over at Andrew Peterson's Rabbit Room blog reposted a CT column I had written a while back about the possible link between pleasure and worship. I'd talked about how eating the delicious chile con queso at my favourite TexMex restaurant was a worship experience for me. I'd defended my line of argument by noting that CS Lewis claimed every sensual enjoyment (properly received) could be a "tiny theophany" -  a small but important revelation of God.
The column, perhaps predictably, ended with a pun: "I rest my queso." In the comments section, someone named  J. T. Adamson posted encouragingly, and I had to grin at his final sentence:
Well said, well said…and ended with a pun, and a pun (properly received) is a “tiny theophany” (at least for me).
Ha! So come, let us adore the tiny theophany in the manger, the word who's meaning can never be exhausted. Whether it's June or December, I pray he dawns on each one of us today.
Merry Christmas!


Tracy Krauss said...

the lyrics are simply lovely. thank you for sharing. AND... i did groan at some of the first puns but I smiled too! Exactly what a good pun does!

Peter Black said...

Carolyn, those're great puns -- I actually 'got' every one of 'em! :)
Lovely lyrics, and a refreshing Christmas focus at the mid-point of the year. Wonderful! ~~+~~

Glynis said...

Thank you, Carolyn. Simply beautiful. What a gift, words are. What a way to celebrate the true Word, too! Make sure we are all reminded of this song closer to Christmas - and do let us know where we can buy the CD! :)

Carolyn Arends said...

Tracy, Peter and Glynis - thanks for enduring my pun-ishment, and for the encouraging words, too!

N. J. Lindquist said...

Love this!

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