Those heavy days, the Child cramped
within you and girding his limbs,
your lungs squeezed breathless-high,
the ordinary, unnerving simmer
of black waters within, Woman,
what did you think?
Or was thought
all prayer—trust in the buds
of epiphanies, the unquantifiable
blood to be let. But Mother,
those unspeakably swollen days,
olives combed out of ashen leaves,
or wine leeching out its vinegar smell,
did you feel the tug of split hearts,
in city streets, at tabernacles, in bars?
As your belly drew down, drawn
by hormones and truth, did you weigh,
too, the clumsy imploring down all
our bloodlines, for this saving parcel of flesh?
Last night we lit the last of the Twelve Days candles. Most folks I know are done with Christmas, but not in our house. We will soon take down most of the decorations, but we leave our lights up until February 2–40 days after Christmas. Every year I reblog the post below to remind you why I think it’s such a good idea. Join us!
When I found out that St. Peter’s keeps their Christmas tree and crèche up in the square until February 2, I decided we would keep our crèche in the chapel and all our Christmas lights up until then as well. I always felt gypped that there were not 40 days to celebrate after Christmas as there are after Easter. Then I discovered that February 2, the Presentation of the Lord (Candlemas), is indeed 40 days after Christmas. So, to me, it makes total sense to keep those Christmas lights lit. If you drive past our house right now, you will still see our candle lights in the windows. I personally love clusters of little white lights. When we begin the Salve Regina at the end of night prayer, the guitarist dims all the lights in our chapel. During this season, that leaves only the Christmas lights and the sole candle lit before the icon of the Mother of God. Yet the chapel still seems bright.
In the beginning of his Christmas message, Pope Benedict spoke of how God “loves to light little lights.” I found that particularly encouraging as I thought of all of us who are desiring to be God’s witnesses to hope. May it encourage you as well, and may you call it to mind whenever you see Christmas lights and candles:
THE LITURGY OF THE MASS AT DAWN REMINDED US THAT THE NIGHT IS NOW PAST, THE DAY HAS BEGUN; THE LIGHT RADIATING FROM THE CAVE OF BETHLEHEM SHINES UPON US. . . .
AT FIRST, BESIDE THE MANGER IN BETHLEHEM, THAT “US” WAS ALMOST IMPERCEPTIBLE TO HUMAN EYES. AS THE GOSPEL OF ST. LUKE RECOUNTS, IT INCLUDED, IN ADDITION TO MARY AND JOSEPH, A FEW LOWLY SHEPHERDS WHO CAME TO THE CAVE AFTER HEARING THE MESSAGE OF THE ANGELS. THE LIGHT OF THAT FIRST CHRISTMAS WAS LIKE A FIRE KINDLED IN THE NIGHT. ALL ABOUT THERE WAS DARKNESS, WHILE IN THE CAVE THERE SHONE THE TRUE LIGHT “THAT ENLIGHTENS EVERY MAN” (JN 1.9). AND YET ALL THIS TOOK PLACE IN SIMPLICITY AND HIDDENNESS, IN THE WAY THAT GOD WORKS IN ALL OF SALVATION HISTORY. GOD LOVES TO LIGHT LITTLE LIGHTS, SO AS THEN TO ILLUMINATE VAST SPACES.
May we allow God to light each of us,
The arrival of Advent this year is overshadowed by the world’s violence. Distant events press in. A week ago, a young Jewish boy from a town near mine, who was studying and volunteering in Israel, was killed by a Palestinian gunman in the West Bank after he had brought food to Israeli soldiers. I wrote a note to a friend in that community, assuming he may have known the family.
“They are our closest friends,” he responded. “It is heartbreaking.”
How little has changed in 2,000 years. Piety and good works don’t save us from violence. Quite the opposite it seems, these days.
As I climb into my attic and poke around for the purple and pink candles to make my Advent wreath, I can’t help but recall a more innocent time in my own home not so very long ago. Advent was the time for concocting ornaments and playing carols while we worked. It was the season of the “Jesus Box;” each day we’d put into it a piece of paper on which we’d written a small deed of kindness we’d done for another. We made peanut butter pine cones for the birds, drank cocoa late in the long afternoons, read books, and strung popcorn.
All of these gestures were designed to bring a slower, more mindful pace to our days, so that when Christmas came, we would greet it with a renewed understanding of the incarnational message, “Christ is born” – the kingdom of God come among us.
“Resetting” the ordinary and seeing the holy in this season isn’t as easy as it once was. Saturated by news clips and tweets of divisiveness, how are we to find the quiet in which we might discover our own navigational stars of hope? The shelter of mere tranquility has collapsed for many of us. If we are totally honest, we are wandering in a dark as deep as that of Mary, Joseph, and the Magi, harried by the same environment of conflict and uncertainty.
But maybe this is the point. Perhaps Advent is actually about accepting reality as it is, and surrendering our small certainties in order to hear a different message than the one we read in the news.
In 1944, the German Jesuit priest, the Rev. Alfred Delp, imprisoned by the Nazis and writing from prison in Berlin, wondered whether he would live to see the fourth Advent candle lit on his own wreath. All the same, he took the trouble to light the first one. Advent, he wrote, even in the darkest of times, is still our time to “review our lives and take a sober look at things because reality is still the place where true joy grows and where we build things that can support a load.”
Read the rest here.
“Any one thinking of the Holy Child as born in December would mean by it exactly what we mean by it; that Christ is not merely a summer sun of the prosperous but a winter fire for the unfortunate.” (G.K. Chesteron)
Now burn, new born to the world,
The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled
Mid-numbered He in three of the thunder-throne!
Not a dooms-day dazzle in his coming nor dark
as he came;
Kind, but royally reclaiming his own;
A released shower, let flash to the shire, not
a lightning of fire hard-hurled.
Gerard Manley Hopkins