Christmas Favorites from SoJo's Christmas Favorites: Karen Peris of the Innocence Mission

By Cathleen Falsani 12-20-2011
Karen and Don Peris of The Innocence Mission. Image via www.theinnocencemission.

Karen and Don Peris of The Innocence Mission. Image via

When I was a child, growing up in the '70s, I loved to watch that old game show, "Name That Tune."  (Cassette Roulette anyone?)

I could usually name that tune faster and in fewer notes than most of my friends. And over the years, I've continued to hone that peculiar aural skill.

There are some vocalists whose voices are so distinctive they could never be mistaken for anyone else. Tom Waits, for instance, or Ricky Lee Jones.
And then there's Karen Peris, the lead vocalist of the indie folk trie The Innocence Mission.
I can name any Innocence Mission in two notes or less. Half a second if the song begins with Karen Peris' voice. If you're a fan of the Innocence Mission, which is comprised of Karen Peris, her husband, Don Peris, and bassist Mike Bitts, you know precisely what I'm on about.
Karen Peris' voice is what I would imagine one of the Sirens (the nice one) might sound like, or perhaps the voice of a selkie — those mythological beings the Celts believed were seals who could shed their skins and become human for a time. Karen's voice is sweet, but never saccharine. Earnest, certainly, but never straining toward pathos or reaching for an emotional response.

It's light and full of delight. Simply (and it's simplicity is part of its great charms) beautiful.

The Innocence Mission's rendition of "Away in a Manger" is a prime example of what Karen Peris' voice can do. It's in high rotation in my Christmas 2011 mix on iTunes and rarely fails to put a lump in my throat or a tear in my eye — signs that the Holy is drawing nigh, according to the great sage of Vermont, Frederick Buechner.

There's another Innocence Mission tune that I've long associated with winter, if not Christmas: "The Lakes of Canada" from the 1999 album Birds of My Neighborhood.  Perhaps it's because my husband and I often ring in the new year on the shores of Lake Superior in Kincardine, Ontario. But I think it's something more than that.

Listen to the words:

Look for me another day.
I feel that I could change,
I feel that I could change.
There's a sudden joy that's like
a fish, a moving light;
I thought I saw it
rowing on the lakes of Canada

Oh laughing man, what have you won?
Don't tell me what cannot be done.
My little mouth, my winter lungs,
don't tell me what can't be done.

Walking in the circle of a flashlight
someone starts to sing, to join in.
Talk of loneliness in quiet voices.
I am shy but you can reach me.
Rowing on the lakes of Canada,
rowing on the lakes of Canada.

Last week, I asked the Perises what their favorite music of Advent and Christmas might be. Here is what Karen Peris wanted to share:

"'O Little Town of Bethlehem' was the first song my daughter learned to sing, at two years old, and she and my son used to sing it with me all the time," Karen said. "In one of my favorite home movies they are sitting at the table, drawing together and singing that song, just quietly to themselves, not knowing anyone was filming them. That's one of the reasons why it is my favorite Christmas hymn. It is such a beautiful song. Both the melody and the poetry of the words seem perfect to me, and perfectly married together, so that they are somehow effortless to sing."

You can hear Karen sing "O Little Town of Bethlehem" below:

Seven Christmas Songs by the innocence mission

Karen didn't say whether she had a favorite rendition of "O Little Town of Bethlehem," so I chose my favorite, by (yet another SoJo favorite) Sarah McLachlan, and hope that the Perises approve.


And just's a bonus song from Karen and Don Peris, the Innocence Mission's gorgeous "God is Love" from the album My Room in the Trees.


Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. She is the author of several books, including The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers and her new release, BELIEBER!: Fame, Faith and the Heart of Justin Bieber. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @godgrrl.




















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