Keep the Vigil of Mystery – It Matters: Pondering with Jessica Powers

“To live with the Spirit of God is to be a listener.
It is to keep the vigil of mystery,
earthless and still.
One leans to catch the stirring of the Spirit,
strange as the wind’s will.”

I am attracted, these days, to this poem by the gifted Carmelite Jessica Powers (1905-1988).   Her way with words I’ve long loved, and I’ll offer you this work in three parts over the next few days, with a few lines of wanderings/wonderings for your reflection and mine.

To live listening, to keep the vigil of mystery – these are wise invitations to the seeker. I wonder – can you and I learn to truly WAIT?  WAIT = Why Am I Talking?  Does my talking serve listening?   The freedom of the other?   The truth of a human experience or challenge?   The beyondness of an encounter with LIFE, GOD, LOVE, A HUMAN PERSON, or SELF?  Are my words echoes that come out of silence,  or noise that protects me from the rawness of experience?

Could it be that we live speaking instead of listening because we feel somehow safer or in more control when we guide the dialogues we have with others, with life’s complexities, with our own confusions or cluelessness?  What would it take to lay down the burden of managing mystery and to instead hold vigil in the darkness?

At times this may indeed feel raw, vulnerable,  intimate – and remind us once again of what we do not understand.  Without a GPS to tell us exactly where we are, a Google or Bing access to explain the unknown, and an app to help us navigate with ease… will we be okay?

At this time of year,  I liken it to the reaction we might have as we step onto an empty beach or look up at night – away from city lights – at vast darkness or uncountable stars.   Does sheer space in those contexts scare us,  make us feel small?   Do we feel inconsequential before multi-billion grains of sands or a night sky-view that hints at a cosmos we cannot begin to see or imagine from where we stand?  And in our more daily moments?   Do large joys or sorrows overwhelm us?  Does not-knowing disturb us, and send us into calculating or strategic plans that remake the real contours of complexities into manageable microbits?

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Powers’ words invite us to listen to the Spirit – to recognize all moments as opportunities to stand small and naked and clueless before mystery – and to learn trust.  Those moments at the beach or beneath the night sky bring me peace, in the midst of wonder – and likely bring that to many of us.  Our intuitive selves know that these experiences are safe and whole-ing.  They can quiet us, even help us to relax by evening us out, reminding us of the large, of the gift we have in living in it without grasping, and refresh us with joy in our being part – a precious part – of something very VERY large. (Think universe, cosmos, creation, and the Creator bigger-than-this-infinity LARGE!)

This awareness can become a lifestyle – and one more relaxing and whole than endeavoring to protect ourselves from life’s big  questions or managing mystery.  We can find joy in being little, known, poor, unknowing.  But this indeed is not an easy journey for we who express our discomfort with this reality, our alienation from this truest identity, in manifold ways.  We circle.  We project.  We protect.  We narrate.  We analyze.  We fear pain.  We have known hurt.  But being bigger than we are and trying to microwave meaning and skip over transcendence with reality-for-dummies strategies simply does not work.  We can be taught, and allow ourselves to be drawn out and allured into deserts and spaces where we can learn trust and heal from our own first person singular ways of doing frenzy.  We can allow ourselves to rage or weep, laugh or dance, and ask for whatever we need for the next steps into living mystery and listening to life and living with the Spirit.  And we can support each other on this journey as true community and pilgrims in process.

With time, and Grace’s enduring work in and with us, we may find that Living Loved and finding our refuge and home and mission from there may prove to be our truest experience of Mystery, as we – and all – are wrapped within the Trinity’s love.  And our vigils with these truths will guide us to reengage in living with integrity,  and provide us a way to reboot when we stray back to lesser living and efforts to manipulate or be our own source, wisdom, control.  They may also help us as individuals, and as a human race, to make better decisions towards peace and stewardship and solidarity and creativity.  And is that not a need for our very survival at this point?

So,  let’s listen to the Spirit today some… do our part to be faithful to the journey.  It matters if we do.  It matters that we do.

“By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, 
in quiet and in trust your strength lies.”

(Isaiah 30:15)

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Categories: General, Mystery, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Keep the Vigil of Mystery – It Matters: Pondering with Jessica Powers

  1. Joanne, I especially was struck by these questions above “Do large joys or sorrows overwhelm us? Does not-knowing disturb us, and send us into calculating or strategic plans that remake the real contours of complexities into manageable microbits?” I think poetry is exactly what so many seekers need to live at the depth that they desire. I find that good poems, thoughtful poems, with thier exquisitely word-smithed questions and consolations help us to listen in not only fresh ways, but ways that can crack us open like an egg! Over and over I see the spirit work when people gather around poems for a morning of reflection. Thanks for sharing part of this one by Jessica Powers, since it is a poem of hers that I was unfamiliar with. “How people come, from delight or the scars of damage, to the comfort of a poem.” ~Mary Oliver

    • Thanks so much for your note, Kim! I so agree. I love the image of the Spirit like the mother bird that brings warmth to the eggs (from Basil of Caesarea)… And so we can wish each other that we be ‘cracked up’ or ‘cracked open’. Do you sponsor/facilitate such gatherings around poems? What a gift! Poems are such wonderful vehicles that poke, prod, comfort and console, challenge and disturb. On this one from Jessica Powers – stay tuned, as I’ll share the next two parts of the same poem in the next few days. I love Mary Oliver too!

  2. Carmel Ann Sperti, D.Min.

    “To microwave meaning”? Isn’t that our contemporary society, and, all too often, our preaching and our teaching? Isn’t it so much more challenging to (yes!) listen, instead of speak, or enter humbly into mystery instead of trying quickly to explain everything?
    Wonderful post…this one will keep me in reflection for a long time!

    • Thanks for your note, Carmel Ann! I agree… the microwaving tendency seems to have become rampant… even to instant add water ministry strategies. It IS challenging, and yet somehow simpler, to be and to be with. We may be just talking about our discomfort with reality and the gift of life as it is… we are so complicated, yes? Good to “meet” you!

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