Christmas

The Light Gains Ground! (Ravens, Advent, & Mary Oliver)

TrainingCamp_GotGame_1440x900I’m a crazy happy Baltimore Ravens fan, and LOVE to see those games when the team turns a corner and starts to climb back into the competition. Things start to click, energy builds, anxiety lessens and hope rises. Players celebrate and you can feel the joy across the Ravens nation – on and off the field.

Well, we just turned a corner with Solstice, and light is gaining ground again in this part of the world. Every day hence, the sun will be a bit longer with us and days will extend. Though there will be snow and cold and darkness yet, the momentum has moved and light is beginning to win. Go Sun Nation!

It’s late Advent, and I come across this Mary Oliver poem (below) that celebrates the Sun. No accidents, I think. Post-Solstice is here with gradually lessening darkness and gradually increasing light; and so it seems fitting to share it.

SAMSUNGBesides, the Christ event that we will celebrate two nights hence is a HUGE Solstice moment that says that LIGHT, the SON, HOPE, JOY, PEACE, POSSIBILITY, GRACE saves all of us who stumble around in the dark. And nothing is ever the same since that stabled night that brought a stability beyond what any woman, man or child could have hoped. Since this moment, the whole game is changed. We are a people – a nation – of the Son. Things click, anxiety can lessen, celebration can commence, and all of life morphs into a pattern of death and resurrection begun in a Love that becomes poor and enters darkness that we might become rich and live in light.

So, celebrate with pleasure the warmth of this Son as you read Mary’s poem below. And by all means come empty handed, without distraction, and do the kind of praying that is most fitting for the Christian — stand in the warmth and receive the Love poured out and over and through you. God is a giving, a With, Love.  We are a receiving, an accompanied one, beloved children. It is as we live entirely receiving that we welcome the One who enters our world and each of our lives and hearts fully. Let go of what fills you, and come empty — you too may find joy in such poverty.

We’ve got game! The corner is turned. Welcome Light! Welcome Jesus to our world!

Light that enlightens us all, dwell with us this season. Open us to Your Presence in new and wondrous ways. Help us touch Your humility and poverty, Your vulnerability in flesh and newborn cries and snuggling. Help us hold You – and the truth of Light’s forever gained ground – tightly, yet lightly. Guide us. Transform us. Grant us a Christmas grace of Your choosing. Amen!

IMG022

The Sun

Have you ever seen
anything
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone –
and how it slides again

out of the blackness
every morning,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower

streaming upward on it heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance –
and have you ever felt for anything

such wild love –
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
empty-handed –
or have you too
turned from this world –

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?

from New and Selected Poems, Volume One, by Mary Oliver, 1992

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Categories: Advent, Christmas, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Become a Companion on Christ’s Journey: Bonaventure and Infant Mysteries in The Tree of Life

SAMSUNGIn The Tree of Life, St. Bonaventure meditatively traces the mystery that is the life of Jesus as it appears in the New Testament.  This Franciscan – a scholar-peer to Thomas Aquinas at the University of Paris, religious superior/minister general who dealt with often arguing brothers in Christ, and mystic (perhaps in self defense!) – in this text enters the events of Jesus’ life with a poetic imagination.  He brings his readers along for the journey, rich in sensory images.

[Some might say such imaginative reflection is Ignatian… ah!  As Ewert Cousins notes in the foreword of the Classics of Western Spirituality volume on Bonaventure:  “Bonaventure’s The Tree of Life is in many respects a forerunner of Ignatian meditation, in both its subject matter and its techniques.”  As often happens, the saints inform one another – whether or not they are aware.  The Spirit blows where she wills!]

So, if you want in 2014 to enter into the life of the Gospel Jesus more fully through meditation that opens to contemplation, The Tree of Life might be something you might consider reading slowly.  In almost every reflection on the life of Jesus, there are inserted prayers or pleas or imperatives to the reader.  Today, I offer you a taste of portions of the text as it reflects on the Epiphany and Presentation of Jesus in the temple.

 

Jesus Shown to the Magi

When the Lord was born in Bethlehem of Judah, a star appeared to the Magi in the east and with its brightness showed them the way to the home of the humble King.

Do not now turn away
from the brilliance of that star in the east
which guides you.
Become a companion of the holy kings….
With gold, frankincense and myrrh,
venerate Christ the King
as true God and man.
Together with the first fruits of the Gentiles to be called to faith,
adore, confess and praise
this humble God
lying in a manger.
And thus, warned in a dream
not to follow Herod’s pride,
you will return to your country
in the footsteps
of the humble Christ.

Jesus Submissive to the Law

It was not enough for the teacher of perfect humility, who was equal to the Father in all things, to submit himself to the humble Virgin. He must submit himself also to the Law….  presented to God in the temple and that an offering should be given for him in the presence o the just who were rejoicing.

Rejoice, then,
with that blessed old man and the aged Anna;
walk forth
to meet the mother and Child.
Let love overcome your bashfulness;
let affection dispel your fear.
Receive the Infant
in your arms
and say with the bride:
I took hold of him
and would not let him go.
(Song of Songs 3:4)
Dance with the holy old man
and sing with him…

– Excerpts from The Tree of Life, 6/7

Listed below are the words/phrases that catch at my heart as I type and listen today. Which ones catch at yours?

do not now turn away

guides you

become a companion of the holy kings

humble God

return to your country in the footsteps of the humble Christ

walk forth

let love overcome

receive

would not let him go

dance

sing

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One King’s Epiphany: Final Arithmetic and Losing the Stars (Madeleine L’Engle)

Madeleine L’Engle does it again!  Read this Epiphany poem once, twice, three times:

One king’s epiphany

I shall miss the stars.

Not that I shall stop looking
as they pattern their wild will each night
across an inchoate sky, but I must see them with a different awe.
If I trace their flames’ ascending and descending –
relationships and correspondences –
then I deny what they have just revealed.
The sum of their oppositions, juxtapositions, led me to the end of all sums:
a long journey, cold, dark and uncertain,
toward the ultimate equation.
How can I understand? If I turn back from this,
compelled to seek all answers in the stars,
then this – Who – they have led me to
is not the One they said: they will have lied.

No stars are liars!
My life on their truth!
If they had lied about this
I could never trust their power again.

But I believe they showed the truth,
truth breathing,
truth Whom I have touched with my own hands,
worshipped with my gifts.
If I have bowed, made
obeisance to this final arithmetic,
I cannot ask the future from the stars without betraying
the One whom they have led me to.

It will be hard not ask, just once again,
see by mathematical forecast where he will grow,
where go, what kingdom conquer, what crown wear.
But would it not be going beyond truth
(the obscene reduction ad absurdum)
to lose my faith in truth once, and once for all
revealed in the full dayspring of the sun?

I cannot go back to night.
O Truth, O small and unexpected thing,
You have taken so much from me.
How can I bear wisdom’s pain?
But I have been shown: and I have seen.

Yes. I shall miss the stars.

     –  Madeleine L’Engle

The poem describes a mourning and a gaining, a seeing and a no-longer-looking, a finding and a losing, a Truth touched that changes one’s relationship to what has been most valued.  Following the ultimate equation leads to the One beyond the arithmetic.  The end erases the path.

I grieve with this king.  I’ve known times when what is found is wondrous, but what it means in loss intimidates. Have you?  What happens when we apply this to the simplest arithmetic of our relating to God – prayer?

I very much like the writings of Ruth Burrows, Carmelite.  Early in her Essence of Prayer she speaks of being attached to the strategies and methodologies of prayer being a bit of a trap.  I utterly agree.  We can become so focused on the how that we forget the Who.  The purpose is encounter with Love, not a completion of our favored strategies and some success to mark in our do-it-yourself I-am-not-a-prayer-for-dummies gradebook or prayer journal.  We become very attached to hows: they help us feel more in control in this relationship that is all unknowing — and some insoluble combination of mist, bright light and darkness when we try to put it in words.

Ah, but why would such little ones as we expect to word the Word in ultimate fashion?  We share sketches and glimpses, which is why this blog has been full of poetry during these days since Christmas.

When we meet the Word, the Truth – like the one king of L’Engle’s epiphany – we have come to the end of our arithmetic.  If we have been mathematician only, and lover only of the vehicle that brings us to what we seek, our loss is greater.  For me, when we meet the Word, all these images I love to play with fail.  All comes to silence, to no more equations.  We have seen.  And so, perhaps the best prayer for this one king, and for us, is the way to come to silence with Psalm 46:

Be still and know that I am God

Be still and know that I am

Be still and know

Be still

Be

SAMSUNGOh, one king, we pray with you.  We miss our stars too, but meet you in the region where the One we know as Truth reigns well.  The stars never lied, no fear.  Help us to release ours as you have yours… the better to encounter, unencumbered by our strategies and lesser loves, the Word who Loves and is ever With us, Emmanuel.  

Categories: Christmas, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Stars Everywhere: Epiphany with Jessica Powers

On this day in a week begun with celebrating stars that guide through the darkness, I am intrigued by the relationship between light and dark and sight.  And so I google! Doesn’t everyone?  And I found what’s below on http://www.physicsclassroom.com

“The bottom line is: without light, there would be no sight. The visual ability of humans and other animals is the result of the complex interaction of light, eyes and brain. We are able to see because light from an object can move through space and reach our eyes. Once light reaches our eyes, signals are sent to our brain, and our brain deciphers the information in order to detect the appearance, location and movement of the objects we are sighting at. The whole process, as complex as it is, would not be possible if it were not for the presence of light. Without light, there would be no sight.”

We humans need light to guide us.  We need light in order to cue our eyes and brain to see.  It is light which makes perception possible.

Perhaps this is obvious?  I do not think so.  We focus, of course, on what we bring in bodily equipment and our choice to open our eyes!  But light precedes us.  It even invites our bodies and our hearts to open.  And is that not an apt thought as we wander round Epiphany?

The Light, the Word, the One precedes us always.  Without this Light, there is no chance to see, no resulting experiments and play our brain can make, no creating of our own with shades and color.

It is the Star that speaks to the magi.  It precedes them, and leads them to an unlikely end – a manger, a family, a vulnerability that would not have been the human dream to match their hopes.

SAMSUNGIn Too Much Light

The Magi had one only star to follow,
a single sanctuary lamp hung low,
gold ornament in the astonished air.
I am confounded in this latter day;
I find stars everywhere.

Rumor locates the presence of a night
out past the loss of perishable sun
where, round midnight, I shall come to see
that all the stars are one.

I long for this night of the onement of the stars
when days of scattered shining are my lot
and my confusion. Yet faith even here
burns her throat dry, cries: on this very spot
of mornings, see, there is not any place
where the sought Word is not.
Under and over, in and out this morn
flawlessly, purely, wakes the newly born.
Behold, all places which have light in them
truly are Bethlehem.

                                                                                                                Jessica Powers, 1964

There is SO MUCH light – an excess, and stars everywhere to guide us.  There is “not any place where the sought Word is not”.  

In Psalm 119:105 we read that the Word is a lamp for our feet, a light for our path.  May we rejoice in the excess of this person who is Love, expressed in Light, that helps us see where we stand and guides us forward.  If we manage to wake now and then to what is all around us, we will be dazzled by the amount of light with us, within us, within each other.  Just remember that waking to it does not necessarily mean that you or I feel it, anymore than I feel the molecules of the air.  See what the light creates in you, in others… what growth, what we see because of it, what life emerges.  The very looking for the Light is Light’s own gift.  Trust the process.  There are stars everywhere for us to find.

Blessed Light!  May we let its truth reach into every corner of our hearts, our relationships, our world.

SAMSUNG

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Christmas, Praying and Snow: Mary Oliver

This week and more has been filled with poetry and verse to point to the Incarnation wonder.  Wordsmith witnesses who wander their own ways upon the earth record what they see — and we are grateful.  They walk with open eyes and listen, pray and chronicle – and we are blessed.  Today’s good verses come to us from contemporary American poet, Mary Oliver.  There are three.

The first follows a legend and takes us to a stable.  At its end we are left perhaps in the safest place to be — you’ll see. Spend some time there.

Christmas Poem

Says a country legend told every year:
25A_00002-2Go to the barn on Christmas Eve and see
what the creatures do as that long night tips over.
Down on their knees they will go, the fire
of an old memory whistling through their minds!

[So] I went. Wrapped to my eyes against the cold
I creaked back the barn door and peered in.
From town the church bells spilled their midnight music,
and the beasts listened –
yet they lay in their stalls like stone.

Oh the heretics!
Not to remember Bethlehem,
or the star as bright as a sun,
or the child born on a bed of straw!
To know only of the dissolving Now!

Still they drowsed on –
citizens of the pure, the physical world,
they loomed in the dark: powerful
of body, peaceful of mind,
SAMSUNGinnocent of history.

Brothers! I whispered. It is Christmas!
And you are no heretics, but a miracle,
immaculate still as when you thundered forth
on the morning of creation!
As for Bethlehem, that blazing star

still sailed the dark, but only looked for me.
Caught in its light, listening again to its story,
I curled against some sleepy beast, who nuzzled
my hair as though I were a child, and warmed me
the best it could all night.

 

The second wakes us just to see again what’s at our feet. It bids us know that prayer is simple too, atTENDing only.  As 2014  begins, let’s make a practice of it in our moments. Let’s not make of prayer a strategy, an achievement, a technique — but just the simplest doorway to a place, a Presence who opens us.

 

Praying

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

From: Thirst: Poems

And a third remarks on snowy days and nights, a gift to those embraced by white these January days. Enjoy the beauty, the wallking, the red hat, and shut the door.  What gates do you look to, hoping openings?

 

November

The snowSAMSUNG
began slowly,
a soft and easy
sprinkling

of flakes, then clouds of flakes
in the baskets of the wind
and the branches
of the trees –

oh, so pretty.
We walked
through the growing stillness,
as the flakes

prickled the path,
then covered it,
then deepened
as in curds and drifts,

as the wind grew stronger,
shaping its work
less delicately,
taking greater steps

over the hillsSAMSUNG
and through the trees
until, finally,
we were cold,

and far from home.
We turned
and followed our long shadows back
to the house,

stamped our feet,
went inside, and shut the door.
Through the window
we could see

how far away it was to the gates of April.
Let the fire now
put on its red hat
and sing to us.

From: Why I Wake Early 

 

What do these verses wake in you?  

What is their invitation to your heart and life?  

Be present, then, to this your moment.  And see.  And see.

Categories: Christmas, Poetry, Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Our Lady of the Refugees and of “High Revolt”: Pope Francis, Compassion, Justice and the Christmastide Mary

Reflections on the Mystery in the Manger, the Word made Flesh, must bring us round to other Flesh that needs our particular care and attention.  In the way that Jesus enters our world and human chronicle we see a sensitivity for the poor, the wandering, the vulnerable.  Pope Francis has been aptly reminding the world of this in his words during this Christmas tide.  I was very struck yesterday, with the words below that he added to his prepared text of his New Year’s Message on the spot.

“What on earth is happening in the hearts of men?
What on earth is happening in the heart of humanity?
It’s time to stop!”

Continuing the daily contributions from word-artists through the Epiphany, January 5th (as promised!), I offer two today in light of Pope Francis’ passionate questions and (indeed) command to our day.  TIME OUT!

The first poem is another of Sister Maura Eichner’s – this one on Mary’s connection to refugees.  In our day, this is more than apt.  If it prompts you to prayer and compassionate advocacy, you might find it a good to check out the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) website on migration and refugee services for further info and action possibilities.  National Migration Week begins this Sunday (fittingly) with Epiphany and runs January 5th-11th.  http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-and-refugee-services/

migration week 2014

Our Lady of the Refugees

Mother who knew
what hardship shakes
a woman bundling clothes
and putting by her wheaten cakes;
Mother who urged the donkey
(making happy riot
on the struggling stones)
urged the beast to be more quiet;
Mother who heard the Child
whimper beneath the thin blue shawl,
our aching prayer cries out to you,
Mother, pray for them all.

A thousand Bethlehems
mask dark tonight,
the lamps of friendly homes
have lost their light;
pathetic heaps of poor and homely things
are laid aside;
a small bird sang where a latched door swings.
Mother whose sad Egyptian flight
preceded all of these,
guide them in faith beneath familiar stars,
Our Lady of the Refugees.

Sister Maura Eichner, SSND

This second piece is poetry-hymnody.  The writer, Frederick (Fred) Kaan, was a United Reformed Church minister, a pacifist, a worker for peace and justice and, in his day, quite active with the World Council of Missions, along with his prolific hymn writing.  He reflects on the Magnificat, and bids us enter Mary’s work for justice.

Magnificat (Hymn)

Sing we a song of high revolt;
Make great the Lord, God’s name exalt:
Sing we the words of Mary’s song
Of God at war with human wrong.

Sing we of God who deeply cares
And still with us our burden shares;
God, who with strength the proud disowns,
Brings down the mighty from their thrones.

By God the poor are lifted up;
God satisfies with bread and cup
The hungry folk of many lands:
The rich are left with empty hands.

God calls us to revolt and fight,
To seek for what is just and right.
To sing and live Magnificat
To ease all people’s sorry lot.

Fred Kaan

Categories: Christmas, Justice-Service, Mary of Nazareth, Pope Francis | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Child’s First Cry Came Like a Bell: L’Engle’s Further Words on Mary

Happy New Year, readers and friends!  May 2014 bring you much joy.

It must be obvious by now that I value Madeleine L’Engle, as friend and wordsmith.

In my young adulthood, I knew she gave writers’ workshops in the summer at Wheaton College in Illinois.  I wanted “someday” to go.  I did not make the “someday”, sadly.  Still, I’ve felt – from childhood on – tutored by her characters, her art, her own journey in life and writing in many ways.  She was a purveyor of intuited truth to the child who munched happily on A Wrinkle in Time, and every subsequent novel.  (I’m thinking of rereading them all in 2014… anyone with me?   And then on to all her other books!)  A high school student gifted me with Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, which wound its way into both my masters and doctoral theses, and a theology of ministry too!  Though we never met in the flesh, I feel I’ve met L’Engle in other ways (perhaps in a kything communion, oh Wrinkle lovers?).  There are many dear writers like that for me – C.S. Lewis comes immediately to mind, with Tolkien and MacDonald, poets, and saints and mystics.  I hope that’s true for you as well.

So, on this day that celebrates Mary as God-Bearer, Mother, Theotokos, solemnly – it seemed fitting to offer you this three pronged reflection on Mary from L’Engle.  The last I shared with you was Young Mary, glimpsing her just past the Annunciation.  Here Madeleine again explores the inner experience of Mary, within the context of the Incarnation-Christmas Mystery.  Appropriately, the third poem below has much to do with Joseph, who sees too little ink, methinks.

I invite you to add a comment after your reading, simply sharing a line/a phrase/a word that speaks to you from all the ones below.  We have a right to hear the Spirit speaking in the context of community, so share a whispering or breeze or gust that blows past you, in a repeated word or three or four from her text, would you?

May Mary and Joseph accompany and guide you to the places you need to be this year to better encounter the Word in flesh.

 

Three Songs Of Mary

1. O Simplicitas

An angel came to me
and I was unprepared
to be what God was using.
Mother I was to be.
A moment I despaired,
thought briefly of refusing.
The angel knew I heard.
according to God’s Word
I bowed to this strange choosing.

A palace should have been
the birthplace of a king
(I had no way of knowing).
We went to Bethlehem;
it was so strange a thing.
The wind was cold, and blowing,
my cloak was old, and thin.
They turned us from the inn;
the town was overflowing.

God’s Word, a child so small
who still must learn to speak
lay in humiliation.
Joseph stood, strong and tall.
The beasts were warm and meek
and moved in hesitation.
The Child born in a stall?
I understood it: all.
Kings came in adoration.

Perhaps it was absurd;
a stable set apart,
the sleeping cattle lowing;
and the incarnate Word
resting against my heart.
My joy was overflowing.
The shepherds came, adored
the folly of the Lord,
wiser than all men’s knowing.

 

2. O Oriens

O come, O come Emmanuel
within this fragile vessel here to dwell.
O Child conceived by heaven’s power
give me thy strength: it is the hour.SAMSUNG

O come, thou Wisdom form on high;
like any babe at life you cry;
for me, like any mother, birth
Was hard, O light of earth.

O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
whose birth came hastily at night,
born in a stable, in blood and pain
is this the king who comes to reign?

O come, thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
the stars will be thy diadem.
How can the infinite finite be?
Why choose, child, to be born of me?

O come, thou key of David, come,
open the door to my heart-home.
I cannot love thee as a king –
so fragile and so small a thing.

O come, thou Dayspring from on high:
I saw the signs that marked the sky.
I heard the beat of angels’ wings
I saw the shepherds and the kings.

O come, Desire of nations, be
simply a human child to me.
Let me not weep that you are born.
The night is gone. Now gleams the morn.

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel,
God’s Son, God’s Self, with us to dwell.

3. O Sapientia

It was from Joseph first I learned
of love. Like me he was dismayed.
How easily he could have turned
me from his house; but, unafraid,
he put me not away from him
(O God-sent angel, pray for him).
Thus through his love was Love obeyed.

The Child’s first cry came like a bell:
God’s Word aloud, God’s Word in deed.
The angel spoke: so it befell,
and Joseph with me in my need.
O Child whose father came from heaven,
to you another gift was given,
your earthly father chosen well.

With Joseph I was always warmed
and cherished. Even in the stable
I knew that I would not be harmed.
And, thou above the angels swarmed,
man’s love it was that made me able
to bear God’s love, wild, formidable,
to bear God’s will, through me performed.

Categories: Christmas, Mary of Nazareth, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

New Year’s Eve: Hildegard, the Word, God’s Maternal Love, and Repentance

In less than four hours, our time zone will flip over to 2014.  January 1st symbolically holds hopes and fears, energy and trepidation, for many.  It is a natural beginning, just as today – the 31st of December – is a natural ending.  What have been the flavors of the year past for you, for me?  What do we seek in the year about to begin?  Is there a cultural message that, whatever it holds, we must pull ourselves along or up or over hurdles or around obstacles with new-year-will-power all on our own?  What gives me more will power tomorrow than I had today?

Julie Morgenstern, organizing guru and author, is wise as she writes of organizing our lives being more than re-packaging or re-ordering the contents.  In her work, she suggests viewing the present forward as the next chapter of our lives, for which we should determine the key theme.  And then we should ‘pack’ for that journey/chapter, letting go of stuff, time commitments and attitudes that don’t match with the theme we are entering.  It’s a great bit of wisdom (and may be helpful to some of us to truly re-order, as she puts it, from the inside out).

Though change takes more than a calendar flipping forward, markers llike New Year’s Eve and Day can provide motivation to access our truest desires and see if there can be movement in areas of our lives.  This is terrific, and we should all discern these steps – changes for health, for holiness, for wholeness, for virtue, for service, for compassion and solidarity with others.  Such discernment can bring us to an awareness of what has not been of sufficient priority in our lives.  It’s an end of the holidays-end of the year examen.  Can you and I repent?

SAMSUNGIn the spirit of these days of celebrating the Christmas season, note these words of wisdom:

Through the fountain-fullness of the Word
came the embrace of God’s maternal love,
which nourishes us into life,
is our help in perils,
and — as a most profound and gentle love –
opens us for repentance.

Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias II, 2, 4

 

* cover art of Hildegard: Prophet of the Classic Christ, Crossroads

On New Year’s Eve, I recommend looking at our lives through the arms of the embrace of God’s maternal love, as described by Hildegard.  Only from there can I (and maybe you?) safely contemplate the invitations to change and awareness and maturity and virtue that we need not attempt alone.  Spiritual formation and growth is not a western culture individual fix-yourself-up kit.  It is seeing from God’s loving view and letting it open us to repentance, and to unending mercy.

It heartens me that Pope Francis’ underlying orientation seems to be toward speaking to our age of mercy. His motto – “Miserando atque eligendo”, meaning lowly but chosen – tells us how he sees himself, and invites us to the same self-seeing.  We are lowly.  We are chosen.  We are seen.  We are given mercy over and over, flowing from love.

At the local YMCA, regulars speak about how crazy the locker room area is in January.  “But, no worries, it’s just the New Year’s crowd,” quickly follows.  “They’ll be gone soon.”  Cynical?  Maybe.  Often accurate to some degree.  And it makes me wonder.

Can our thinking about the New Year be rooted in what Hildegard offers us in looking at the Incarnation Mystery?  As we rest still by that manger and listen, perhaps we find our rootedness (stable-ity?) in recollecting the fountain-fullness of God’s love which is our help always, and is gentle and profound.  Any ‘resolution’ might best find root first in re-knowing (yes, re-collecting!) over and over, through practice, the truth of this vision.  We might then be open to a mercy that opens us up to repentance.

Check out these words from Wikipedia on the etymology of repentance/to repent (bold, mine) :

“In the New Testament, the word translated as ‘repentance’ is the Greek word μετάνοια (metanoia), “after/behind one’s mind”, which is a compound word of the preposition ‘meta’ (after, with), and the verb ‘noeo’ (to perceive, to think, the result of perceiving or observing). In this compound word the preposition combines the two meanings of time and change, which may be denoted by ‘after’ and ‘different’; so that the whole compound means: ‘to think differently after’. Metanoia is therefore primarily an after-thought, different from the former thought; a change of mind accompanied by regret and change of conduct, “change of mind and heart”, or, “change of consciousness”.

Be with the Holy Family, be with the maternal love of God, be with the baby Jesus, know the love that is the help in all our peril — and THEN see what the ‘after thought’ might be.  For some of us, the being with may prove to be the best and most important first step.  And telling others of this love, a joyful evangelization.  And living it, service and justice.  And change may then be more than a January “till we run out of steam” event. It’s not our steam.  Our fuel, our food, is the manger, where we feed.  It continues in the Eucharist we share. Be fed, and move to after thought, repentance, metanoia only motivated by love.  By Love.

Happy New Year’s Eve!

fireworks

Categories: Change, Christmas, Mystics, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Of Bees, Honeyed Feet and Incarnation: Mechthild of Magdeburg

Of all that God has shown meTarrito
I can speak just the smallest word,
Not more than a honey bee
Takes on her foot
From an overspilling jar.

– Mechthild of Magdeburg

— so beautiful, yes?  take it in!  it seems to me these days that any words that we can say about what is essential are really quite small —

We are poor and little, weak and clueless.  Love and truth, life and death, sickness and health, growth and decline, sadness and joy, conflict and peace, violence and tenderness – even what is happening in our own minds and hearts; so little about these things comes into sharp focus for us.  We have no answers, small understanding, and come to wisdom slowly.  Can we smile at this?

Of course, we are wondrous.  I haven’t forgotten.  But we (and certainly I) don’t dwell with the wondrous enough.  We are distracted by what we do not know, ways we have not done or been something we intuit is extremely important (though our words fail here too), or who we have not yet, or may not ever, become.  We seek answers.  We remember suffering and ask questions.  We seek identity and home.

We do not know.  We experience longing, and sometimes deep pain.  We are not — something — our hearts tell us.  (Thank God that “God is greater than our hearts”!  1 John 3:20).  Yet perhaps our smallness and the way we experience life within our very limitation is wonder too.  (I know – it doesn’t feel wondrous sometimes! But don’t the words sound as if there’s something to them?  Hmm…)

Mechthild’s bee reminds us of who we are.  It’s beautiful really.  This small honey bee’s foot finds sweet stickiness in an overflowing abundance.  We buzz about a world of overflowing honey jars.  We might stop here.  Our view, she seems to say, is so small – our capacity infinitesimal.  But listen to Mechthild’s premise and find new hope in knowing that you and I are amazing.

Of all that God has shown me…  We are ones who wake into life learning that we are constantly addressed and “shown things” by the Creator of all that is!  This is the One who somehow is and was before all things (duh… grasp that one with your brain!), who brought all into being and intends our freedom and ability to learn and love.  We wake up already deeply in a relationship that is our truest home; a relationship we did not initiate, could not earn, and are invited to remain in always and forever.  Does that not make us amazing? We fascinate the Creator of the smallest quarks and the largest galaxies, who delights in showing us things and being with us!  Augustine spoke of humans as having capax dei… a capacity for God.  We are made that way – hard wired.  Wouldn’t it be lovely to really believe that we have the capacity to delight God by simply receiving what God would show us, what God would give.

And God shows us much, each day, each moment.

If we cultivate (through REPEATED practice!) that Advent wakefulness December reminded us of as a way of living, we might find a million’s million grams of ‘honey’ in which our feet are stuck, and through which God speaks to us.  Will we learn to listen to the Creator’s love-talk?

As I write, these “small” things surround me, and I believe “show” me something:  music’s beauty, the skill and passion of the harpist, the oft-forgotten wonder of my ears and the way they take in sound like fingers take in texture or my palate takes in flavor, the wonder of how hands and thumbs and muscles and holding work (as my left thumb and wrist speak to me in ache from a fall), the way vegetables actually feel good as you eat them, the warmth of heart brought by a quick gaze at a sleeping crazy-beloved dog, the essence of connection and longing for presence found in family members’ smiles and eyes on pictures on the wall, the flickering self-giving light of a candle, the hand stitched gift that says ‘I know and love you’, the diversity of place and people I’ve visited in playful koala and moose images, the delight in coffee’s smell and taste, the wonder of recorded words in books and the people whose stories and gifts gave them birth.  These are just a few of the wonders within 6 feet of where I sit.  Even within that range I cannot adequately capture all of what God shows me! Take a few moments.  What’s around you?  If you listen, is God showing you some small thing through the honey on your foot in this moment?  We stand sticky in wonders and mystery all the time!

I have wondered why I/why we then spend so much energy anxious or upset about what we cannot understand or do not know.  Why are we surprised when we are just bee-size?  Why does it pain us so not to find answers, wrap up what we consider essential questions, or to simply walk our days in unknowing, with a bit of ongoing stumbling more characteristic than steady gait when we walk around the larger questions? I do not mean we are not explorers of lands and seas, of space, of body and spirit, of all that our curiosity draws us to learn of, or that human or creation’s need draws us to discover.  I do not argue with our unfolding knowledge, with study, with the sketches we make of what is important that become science texts or symphonies, masterpieces or family traditions.

SAMSUNGBut we are those who often experience life as ones who see “tatters of clearness through a pervading obscurity”.*  We can only speak just the smallest word, Mechthild tells us, of what we are shown, even of what we experience.  Is that awful?  We seem to think so.  Difficult, yes, of course; especially when we speak of loss or death or isolation or violence or other hard things.  But our analyzing endlessly or “parking in the circle” of difficult or the excruciatingly painful will not create an okay-ness if we put in enough time or effort!  Instead, we run the risk of forgetting to notice the other honey – the amazing and wondrous. And we will forget the merits of our littleness.

You and I must learn to live and thrive in a place of acceptance and celebration of the limits and wonders of being human.

Okay.  What do we know?  Not much.  What can we hold onto in awareness? Only the smallest fraction, like Mechthild’s bee’s honeyed foot. What if the Incarnation speaks to how to be with this?  It does!  Do we not believe Jesus shows us how to live human life as it can be lived?

At Christmas, we remember that we are not only people addressed by God everyday and over history, shown all kinds of wonders.  Mechthild is correct that we are only able to say the smallest word about life, but God’s Word came to us – containing every word and hope.  And the Creator of All chose to enter the very reality of unknowing and foggy perceiving we resist – this soil and sod that is the stuff of being human. And by so joining it, graced it fully.  Into the middle of the not knowing, this fog of understanding where clarity is an exception in our experience: THIS is the very reality that God chose to enter.  The One who is somehow Three, who existed before the cosmos and creation, chose to fully enter the flesh-ly story of a people and a world in one corner of one planet in one womb as one child with one human lifetime.  No wonder we speak of the Word leaping down from the heavens! What a leap!  God entering such limits!  Unbelievable!

Or is it?  Doesn’t such entering in tell us something about who God has always been, well before that holy night we sing about on Christmas Eve?  We miss the fact that Incarnation says something about power. Power is not control.  It is not insight.  It is not understanding and identifying and categorizing and figuring all out. Real power – true power – is love.  It is Love which leaps and enters and is WITH.  (It’s Trinity too – for that’s the leaping love of the Three which makes them One in ongoing self-giving.)  The One Who Loves Us All is this very Love, in kind and content. This is the most amazing power you and I can ever encounter.  In a way, it’s a no-brainer.  The Christmas Story in Luke is all about persons who don’t have all (or much) in their control.  The scene looks out of whack;  a babe in an animal’s feed trough, a woman who said yes to an angel when ‘how’ was never answered, a man who welcomed a pregnant bride into his life and heart with little sensical explanation.  Control and understanding are not the point, no matter that we might want to make it so sometimes.  Relationship and being with and delight and being who we are in this love — every day and moment — that’s the point.

God leaps in love.  God is a leap in love.  This is what we mean when some say “God is mission”.  God must go out in love.  And so must we. It’s who God is, not what God does.  It’s who we are, not what we do.

The most powerful achievements in our lives have little do with understanding all the turns and wherefores in our own or others’ journeys, or even affecting them.  Our power lies in awareness and acceptance of the love story we are created a part of, and a Love embracing us and sending us leaping out to love.  As Pope Francis has often repeated this season, that reaching out should particularly be to the poor.  God came to us, poor small honeybees so loved by God and able to give God delight.  And our poverty is what God can fill.  We who would join the Incarnation mystery by bringing Christ to birth in our world and lives must also go where love goes… it leaps to those with greatest emptiness and need.  We are those who have received.  We are those who must also leap.

So, let’s worry less about getting answers to all life’s questions.  Let’s live in the relationship where God shows us many things.  Let us embrace our capax dei, the gift that is our capacity for God, hard-wired in by the Creator.  Let’s value one another – especially those in need or pain – with the same leaping love God models for us in Jesus’ coming.  Let us give up trying to understand the Incarnation, and live its mystery by embodying an embrace of humanness that the Creator chose to show us in Christ.  Let us glance at the babe, and learn from the young family how to survive and thrive in unknowing, in following, in faithfulness.

SAMSUNGI am better able to walk in this mystery as I listen to the smallest words of others about this journey we are all on.  Mechthild, Madeleine, Maura, Jessica — these poets help me listen and learn.  They hearten me, as they learn and share what God has shown them.  I hope they invite you to attention to what God shows you too this day.  Whatever that may be, it is good.  Trust that, with me.  Don’t worry that you don’t get the whole honey-pot…. or a few of them.  Enjoy, with God, the bit of honey on your foot this day.  And I will too, with you!  BbbbuuuuuuZZZZZzzzzzzzzz!

* The source of this image is Annie Dillard in The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (see ABOUT THE BLOG). There she describes the experience of being human very much like the experience of walking in the fog. We see “tatters of clearness through a pervading obscurity”.

Categories: Christmas, General, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This is the Irrational Season: Mary’s Story

Sitting before the Child in the Manger, and the infinite made tenderly accessible to us, let us glance up at the young mother whose body held more than the universe itself can hold. (Clare of Assisi gave us that lovely image in her letters to Agnes of Prague).  In the midst of spinning stars on a planet small, in a stable smaller still, a woman young in years, yet full of grace and wonderings, looks at her baby boy with love.  Jesus would reach and feed, grow and play, learn and pray, love and work, cry and laugh  – all within the secure boundaries of her loving gaze.  What is Mary’s story?  For story – we remember – holds truth.  

Young Mary of Nazareth’s Story is marked with angels, journeys, questions, magnificats, leaping babes, kin conversation, serving, sorrows, Spirit, stars and ponderings. From angel annunciation, her life has been like the pause before the GPS speaks after a radical turn, “RECALCULATING”.  She’s gone another way, by intuition and by Yes, a way without her knowing and understanding, a way ungraspable and unexplainable (except by angel dreams, it seems, or so faithful loving Joseph found).  

And in this newly twisting tale, her Story and very being – heart and soul and flesh – will give birth to THE Story, the Word expressed in flesh and told in our world and time.  There will be no recalculated voice to explain the ways the Story will unfold in time.  This Story, this Word, invites and calls for faithfulness only. There is no reasoning, GPS security or googlemaps with landmarks.  Only love.  And Love.  For “it is not a matter of reason, it is a matter of love”.*  

So today I offer Madeleine L’Engle to you once more, for I find her word-entries into Incarnation mystery such apt companions for reflection.  I hope you do too.  These two poems take us months back from the Manger Mystery, to the Annunciation change in path.  Find Luke 1, and these, as food on this Feast of the Holy Family.

 

SAMSUNG

After Annunciation

This is the irrational season,
when love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason,
there’d have been no room for the child.

Young Mary

I know not all of that which I contain.
I’m small; I’m young; I fear the pain.
All is surprise: I am to be a mother.
That Holy Thing within me and no other
is Heaven’s King whose lovely Love will reign.
My pain, his gaining my eternal gain
my fragile body holds Creation’s Light;
its smallness shelters God’s unbounded might.
The angel came and gave, did not explain.
I know not all of that which I contain.

* This quote of reason and of love is from the play “A Man for all Seasons” by Robert Bolt

 

Categories: Christmas, General, Mary of Nazareth, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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