“I stood before a silk work one day.
And that night my heart said to me,
‘I can do things like that, I can spin skies,
I can be woven into love that can bring warmth to people;
I can be soft against a crying face,
I can be wings that lift, and I can travel on my thousand feet
throughout the earth,
my sacks filled
with the sacred.’
And I replied to my heart,
‘Dear, can you really do all these things?’
And it just nodded ‘Yes’
So we began and will never
For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: If you asked the Spirit “Can we really do all these things together” what would the Spirit say? Are you being led toward small kindnesses? Great adventures? Something else?
A classic! Here it is.
‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For the journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins,
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
— T. S. Eliot
For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: The poet’s words move his readers through several stages of the Magi’s journey to Jesus, and back home. How many stages do you identify? Which part(s) of the journey feel most familiar to you?
A new year is here! A blessing from the Celtic tradition for you and yours as 2020 begins:
God, bless to me the new day,
Never granted to me before;
It is to bless Your presence
You have given me this time, O God.
Bless to me my eyes,
May my eyes bless all they see;
I will bless my neighbor,
May my neighbor bless me.
God, give me a clean heart,
Let me stay in the sight of Your eyes’
Bless to me my family,
And bless to me my work and possessions. Amen.
For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: Which of these blessings will mean the most to you in the new year?
Perhaps it does not begin.
Perhaps it is always.
Perhaps it takes a lifetime
to open our eyes,
to learn to see
what has forever
shimmered in front of us —
the luminous line
of the map
in the dark,
the vigil flame
in the house
of the heart,
the love so searing
we cannot keep
from crying out
Perhaps this day
will be the mountain
the dawn breaks.
will turn our face
toward what has been
will finally open
in ancient recognition,
illuminated at last.
Perhaps this day
the light begins
(From Jan Richardson’s “Circle of Grace”, 2015). For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: Where is the light of Christ shining for you this season? What “ancient recognititons” are dazzling you right now?
John the Baptist is a familiar Advent character. Who knew he had a bird named for him! Here’s the poem:
A John the Baptist bird which comes before
The light, chooses an aerial
Toothed like a garden rake, puts a prong at each shoulder,
Opens its beak and becomes a thurifer
Blessing dark above dank holes between the houses,
Sleek patios or rag-and-weed-choked messes.
Too aboriginal to notice these,
Its concentration is on resonance
Which excavates in sleepers memories
Long overgrown or expensively paved-over,
Of innocence unmawkish, love robust.
Its sole belief, that light will come at last.
The point is proved and, casual, it flies elsewhere
To sing more distantly, as though its tune
Is left behind imprinted on the air,
Still legible, though this the second carbon.
And puzzled wakers lie and listen hard
To something moving in their minds’ backyard.
P J Kavanagh (Collected Poems, Carcanet 1992)
For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: What is “moving in your mind’s backyard” this Advent season?
This, from the former Archbishop of Canterbury’s first book of poems:
He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.
He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.
He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.
He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.
For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: In how many strange or unexpected ways has Jesus come to you?
Rediscovering this poem every year is an Advent tradition for me! What Advent traditions have deep meaning for you?
Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.
If, like me, you read mysteries and thrillers, you have already met Inspector Gamache, the protaganist in Louise Penny’s series set in the city of Quebec and the village of Three Pines. Gamache often reminds other characters (and us!) of four sayings that, for him, lead to wisdom:
I was wrong
I don’t know
I need help.
Four simple sentences. Four weeks in Advent about to begin. What might happen if, in your prayer life, you focused your conversations with God around a different one of these four sentences each week?
“Grandfather Mantis eats honeycombs. Now, honey itself is that sweet thickness produced by bees from the nectar of flowers. Thousands of bees belonging to a hive gather the nectar from thousands of flowers blooming in the spring. They bring back that nectar to the hive where, in the center, they create honey. In the center of the hive, they store the honey in an amazingly thin-walled honeycomb they construct of beeswax. So when Grandfather Mantis eats honeycombs to strengthen his body and think clearly, he is eating this entire process. He is eating the flowers breaking ground on the other side of winter and the nectar forming in the heart of every flower. He is eating the search of a thousand bees scenting after the nectar and their bringing it back to the center of the hive. He is eating the mysterious way they turn nectar into honey and the hive’s industry at turning their wax into a honeycomb.He is surrendering to the fact that in order to be strong and clear, we need to internalize the unending way that the variety of life is tripped upon and gathered and worked into one sweet thickness.”
These words by Mark Nepo are included in Joyce Rupp’s “Prayer Seeds”, Sorin Books, 2017. Used by permission.
For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: Joyce Rupp includes this selection in the section of her book containing reflections for the Thanksgiving holiday. Why do you think she chose to include this one?
This meditation comes from Anam Cara Ministries, lightly adapted. Questions for reflection are included in the italicized text.
The reassuring thing about resistance is the fact that it means we’re pressing up against something. We are not floating aimlessly in a vacuum, but brushing up against something solid – and God is in that something, whatever it may be. There may be pain there, but there is also treasure.
Read and reflect, then, draw the a wall (or some other structure that seems to represent a resistance you’re feeling right now). Where are you in relation to the wall? What’s on the other side? Where is God? Draw or journal all these pieces in, then spend some time looking at what you’ve created. What prayer emerges?