This is a setting of Dorothy Sayers’ poem, “Christ the Companion.” The fabulous and redoubtable soprano, Alyssa Toepfer, sang it a few weeks ago at St. Paul’s on a Sunday morning. I originally wrote this piece for my friend, Donna Harler Smith.


WHEN I’ve thrown my books aside, being petulant and weary,

And have turned down the gas, and the firelight has sufficed,

When my brain’s too stiff for prayer, and too indolent for theory,

Will You come and play with me, big Brother Christ?

Will You slip behind the book-case? Will you stir the window-curtain,
Peeping from the shadow with Your eyes like flame?
Set me staring at the alcove where the flicker’s so uncertain,
Then suddenly, at my elbow, leap up, catch me, call my name?

Or take the great arm-chair, help me set the chestnuts roasting,
And tell me quiet stories, while the brown skins pop,
Of wayfarers and merchantmen and tramp of Roman hosting,
And how Joseph dwelt with Mary in the carpenter’s shop?

When I drift away in dozing, will You softly light the candles
And touch the piano with Your kind, strong fingers,
Set stern fugues of Bach and stately themes of Handel’s
Stalking through the corners where the last disquiet lingers?

And when we say good-night, and You kiss me on the landing,
Will You promise faithfully and make a solemn tryst:
You’ll be just at hand if wanted, close by here where we are standing,
And be down in time for breakfast, big Brother Christ?

There is something about the Christian claim of the Incarnation that always borders on the offensive. The idea that the Incarnation “goes all the way down to the bottom” of our humanity is crazy and beautiful. The idea is scandalous and ancient. It’s one of the oldest watchwords of the faith: God became human so that humans could become God. If that’s true, it means that all of our eccentric peculiarities and foibles are getting picked up and restored. Nothing is lost. Everything gets restored or “recapitulated” (to use a term favored by musicians and the early church) in the end. Our pain. Our laziness. Our sexuality. Our chestnuts and piano playing.

Dorothy Sayers asks us to confront that in a way that is a little scandalous and a little terrifying in its humanity and particularity. You can peruse the score and buy a copy here. Christ the Companion | Kurt Knecht | MusicSpoke.