It’s all about that Neis: messages in song.

As we speed toward the longest night of the year, all of the Northern Hemisphere dwellers I know are looking for the Light.  We’re looking for ways to feel alive, and human, and hopeful in the dark and the cold — to appreciate the stars, to gather around the candles in our homes.  This year, well before it got too dark for my four chickens to lay their daily eggs (poor little molting beasts!), I found myself gravitating toward stories that show miracles happening where people are already striding forward in faith, with little rational reason to think that even the most that they could offer could do anything meaningful.   The Christian story of the Loaves and the Fishes is like that (particularly in John).  So is the Jewish midrash I learned about Nachshon at the edge of the Red Sea with Moses.  Acting in faith, giving what we have (though it’s clearly not enough) and trusting, faithfully hoping, that the willingly-given sum of our all-too-insignificant parts, can be great, and glorious, and, somehow, enough.

credit: The Maccabbeats

I look to these stories because enormous effort that is seemingly insignificant in the face of overwhelming challenge is all we have to offer in response to climate change.  It’s the response we’re all trying to step faithfully into, most of the time.  And our stories can help us maintain that active, acting hope. In the words of the 2014 Maccabeats song: It’s all about that Neis. *

That hummable song created a mashup with another tune ** that has been playing in my head, and got me thinking — again — about miracles and when they happen, about maintaining hope; about continuing to do the work, to keep my lamp trimmed and burning until, together, we can “see what the Lord has done.”

Maybe the reference librarians and DJs in your heads don’t play the same associative games, but mine linked the use of lamps to talk about maintaining hope to the gospel song “keep your lamp trimmed and burning” (not actually about Hanukkah), which urges us to “see what the Lord has done.”  In the end, no matter our traditions, it’s all about that Neis, no matter what we call the Source.

————-song links, lyrics, and footnotes below———–

*I am writing this on the first night of Hanukkah, the best-known Jewish holiday to non-Jews, but a really minor one for Jews.  Maybe that known-but-not-that-important status is why Hanukkah consistently has the most fun YouTube videos of any religious holiday.  (Think I’m wrong?  Please submit your evidence to the contrary!)

If you don’t have teenagers in the house, you may not already know “All About that Bass” by Meghan Trainor, but you’ll want to check out the jazz cover of the song by the group Postmodern Jukebox.  [Gentle Warning: it is pop music, so the lyrics occasionally veer into the same neighborhood as raunchy, though they never go right inside and sit down. ]

**Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning is an old-time blues/gospel tune  The most common choral arrangement has only a couple of verses, but it’s an oral tradition song, so there are many versions out there, from those collected by Alan Lomax, to modern versions by Hot Rize and other bluegrass groups.

Below you’ll find one set of Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning lyrics that’s fairly representative, followed by the All About That Neis lyrics..

1 Keep your lamps trimmed an burning,
keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
for the time is drawing nigh.

Refrain:
Children, don’t grow weary,
children, don’t grow weary,
children, don’t grow weary,
for the time is drawing nigh.

2 Darker midnight lies before us,
darker midnight lies before us,
darker midnight lies before us,
for the time is drawing nigh. [Refrain]

3 Lo, the morning soon is breaking,
lo, the morning soon is breaking,
lo, the morning soon is breaking,
for the time is drawing nigh. [Refrain]

4 Christian, journey soon be over,
christian, journey soon be over,
christian, journey soon be over,
for the time is drawing nigh. [Refrain]

5 Keep your lamps trimmed an burning,
keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
for the time is drawing nigh. [Refrain]

_________________________

Because you know we’re all about that neis bout that neis no oil
We’re all about that neis bout that neis no oil
We’re all about that neis bout that neis no oil
We’re all about that neis bout that neis

Yeah its pretty clear the Maccabees were few
They wouldn’t take it take it
Being told what to do
They wanted freedoms that we today embrace
All the rights to pray in all the right places

The ancient magazines, they put the Greeks on top
Oppressed the Jewish state – they had to be stopped
But Maccabees had faith – they wouldn’t give it up
Our holiday is so much more than spinning plastic tops

My mamma she told me it’s not bout the foods you fry
Faith, family, freedom we celebrate for eight nights
You know that latkes and dreidels and presents are all good fun
But if that’s all you do then your holiday’s just begun

Because you know we’re all about that neis bout that neis no oil
We’re all about that neis bout that neis no oil
We’re all about that neis bout that neis no oil
We’re all about that neis bout that neis

We took the Temple back!
One day of oil burned much more than that
And now we celebrate by eating fat
But we’re here to tell you that
Our holiday is so much more than spinning plastic tops

My bubbe she told me it’s not bout the foods you fry
Faith, family, freedom we celebrate for eight nights
You know that latkes and dreidels and presents are all good fun
But if that’s all you do then your holiday’s just begun

Because you know we’re all about that neis bout that neis no oil
We’re all about that neis bout that neis no oil
We’re all about that neis bout that neis no oil
We’re all about that neis bout that neis