3rd Sunday in Advent ~ 2016
How strange that, amidst these readings on rejoicing, we get one slipped in there on mere endurance. Brethren, be patient. Patiens: suffering. Brethren, suffer. Brethren, endure. How can the same heart be patient and also rejoice?
Rejoice: not that you are comfy, but that God is near.
Rejoice: not that you are comfy, but that God is here.
You are the Goal; and You are also the Way.
You are the wedding-feast; and You are the pilgrim’s daily bread.
You are the End; and You are the one Who carries us there.
The very action of holding on proclaims
that there is something worth holding on for.
Every moment announces that You are near.
We would not have the strength to hold on
unless You were the strength in us.
Every moment announces that You are here.
There are two reasons to rejoice, whatever our cross: that He is with us on it; and that He will save us from it.
Veni, Emmanuel: a mystery. Come, You Who are already here. This is our song, our redoubled rejoicing.
Be with us, God-with-us, and we will run to Your Presence in Zion.
Let the lame leap; let the captives be set free. Let every ache You suffer in us be redeemed.
Gaude, gaude! Emmanuel nascetur pro te Israel.
Scattered thoughts on mercy.
We are very good at things we can measure, sounding the height and width and depth of things which have limits. But mercy is immeasurable. Who shall weigh the water from a gushing spring? Who will moderate the sun, or be offended that it does not dim its rays?
We are used to thinking in Aristotelian terms of a good thing as generally being the mean between two extremes. Don’t go overboard; what is healthy and normal, apt to our nature, is found in moderation rather than excess.
And yet mercy is always extreme. The very nature of God is an excess, an overflow. How strange it is that, from the Garden of Eden, we have always balked at this, always had difficulty believing God is our Father, always resisted asking for what He longs to give us. (What if Adam and Eve had simply repented?)
The earth was formless and void.
They have no wine.
Christ’s first miracle, like God’s first act in time, was a response to the simple fact of emptiness. And the gift has been pressed down and running over ever since. So His mercy sees the void in us and runs to fill it beyond all need and comprehension.
Salvation does not consist in beating the breast but in walking back to God. Judas and the prodigal both acknowledged their sin, but only one of them returned.
Only one of them acknowledged that it was to a Father that he addressed his words.
I have to remember this. I may acknowledge my sin, I may pray a Psalm like 51 and know uncomfortably how very true it is of me, and yet do so in a way that is morose. I am wretched, God. I am wretched. I am looking at how wretched I am. I can’t get away from how wretched I am. Behold my wretchedness. And I forget to add that I am a son, and He is my Father. I forget to look up, to find Him already running toward me down the road. I forget that the grace of seeking Him can only come because He has left everything—the shepherd in the wilderness, the housewife overturning all the furniture, the child in the manger—to find me. I forget that the angels in heaven rejoiced, with real and expansive joy, when David the adulterer and the murderer mourned my sin is ever before Thee.
David acknowledged he was sick; but David asked for healing, and believed that it would come.
Sorrow is only holy, I suppose, when it is part of a larger joy. The bent head, the face ashamed, the fist beating the wicked heart—must be part of a turn to Godward, a real expectation of and readiness to respond to the mercy we will find there, yearning to make us saints.
O, God, You long to pour out Your mercy upon us.
We must accept it; we must become its ministers, its conduits, channels through which it may burst from Your heart and overwhelm the world as the waters cover the sea.
So often You give mercy to one of us through another. Moses stood in the breach before You, and You showered Israel with grace. Mary asked for wine from You, and it exploded by the gallon into jars.
There is nothing tame or rational about mercy. Mercy is wild, superabundant, bursting all our categories. And it is natural. For God alone normality is defined by excess; mercy is unbounded; infinity is the measure of Love.
We may take offense at it; we may balk at the fact that we can neither justify nor understand it, that it is too big for us to control.
Or we may enter into it and let God change everything in us.
They shall see My glory. —what a longing is in the Old Testament for the glory of the Lord. I guess we’re used to thinking of glory as a kind of brightness, an accidental quality of God which for some reason He is awfully concerned about but which we don’t particularly need—and which, if anything, only distances Him from us.
I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east.
Glory is no more separable from God than light from the sun. Without it we, like the sunless earth, are formless and void: incapable of substance.
Glory is the greatness without which we are disconsolate, unable to adore.
Glory is the presence of God. It is that in which our deeds must be wrought; that which they must reflect; that which we must learn to bear. It is that for which we hunger and thirst; that for which we long more than the eye for light, more than watchmen for the dawn.
And we saw His glory, glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Glory is God’s face turned to us.
For Sadie Jasper and Elisha, on their wedding-day.
An old man exiled on an island
(who when young had leaned back
on the Heart of God) at last
found his eyes so steeped in love
that the present moment melted
and Jerusalem descended dressed
as a bride for her husband, bright
as burnished jasper. From a sky
swirling with thunder and angels,
stars in flight and a dragon
ravening for the world, swords
springing from mouths and a Lamb
alive but somehow slain, the city comes
clad in familiar gems: no wilder things
than the things we know can offer,
embodied, the wedding of strength
At last the stones cry out: at last
no longer fleeting, beauty
is tuned to earthward, homing
to the center of love. And the bride
comes down, the treasure revealed
for which the wise man ran to give up
So the men who heard God call
through the lilt of a human voice
have always run–from fathers, fields,
tax-collections, nets: so the one
who offered his oxen on the wood
that yoked them, turning
from the pyre of what he’d been
to chariots of fire.
The jewel and the prophet both
are sacraments of yes, the promise
made when morning blessed the deep:
one, the covenant gleaming
on Aaron’s breastplate and the streets
of Christ’s beloved; the other’s voice
and vision burning with the news
of coming day.
May you, the bride, simplicity
gilded with grace, glistening forth
from untold facets sparks
of sudden flame–even
in shadow may you be still
a harbor for the light. And bridegroom,
you whose forebear felt the whirlwind
smolder with God, may your fingers
listen at the edges of wood and stone
for the voice of Him who sounds
this world to bring us home.
May He without Whom nothing
is strong or holy bless you, keep you,
and shine on you in the place
where St. John came; and may He
Who joins you now fulfill
the promise of your names.
I heave myself up from rolling
to mumble me and midnight back
Magnificat, a Memorare, fragments
of a Psalm, whatever odds
and ends might tumble through
the waves of sleep and trail off (unheard) to glory
be — how should I dare to offer Him
such meager crumbs of praise?
I shuffle to the window and dip
my head under the half-blind to a breeze
crisp with grass and pine. Below,
a snort and footfall, splotch
I can’t quite see–the apophatic elk,
betrayed by the munch and snicker
of each squeakily-bitten blade.
Above, the moon lies round on the rim
of velvet sky; on the screen, two shafts
of lambent gold, a cross is traced
between her rays and the waking
of my eye.
I the receiver; this world
the gift to bless Him by.
The first time I went to meet a priest,
I took a mason jar. I needed something
for my hands to do, and after all
the pond whose scum I’d promised to bestow
on sixth-grade microscopes was halfway there
and I could scoop it up returning. (It seemed
too odd to do it sooner: an empty jar
would somehow give excuse, but slime would seem
to need one.) So I fumbled through the gates
and found a bench and clutched that jar as though
it helped make sense for me to be there:
as though I were of course that person
who Helps With Gathering Things–you know,
the one who meets with Father after Mass
on Sunday evening to discuss this week’s
Gathering Success. Just don’t look at me;
I know my eyes linger on the statues,
and sound the courtyard with the glance of one
who hasn’t walked it. I know the nose of
pious instinct twitches when a stranger
comes to one of this week’s fifteen masses.
Don’t see me here, my colossal need to be
transparent. Let me make sense, and suffer
my pathetic pretense to belong.
So I sat there, balancing the brightness
of evening between my heavy palms,
absorbed until the last well-wisher went
at last with blessing on her way. I rose,
and pounced beyond my heart to greet him:
and what I brought said all I couldn’t say.
“Happy Birthday, Father? (Did I hear them
murmur right?) And also I should tell you
who I am…”
Hi Father. I have come
with hands outstretched and empty for the light.
[Divine Mercy Sunday, 4.12.15]