“Your flame is touching ours”

There is a little known Advent tradition–at least little known to me–of using an Advent log, instead of an wreath.  “It contains a candle hole for each day of Advent, plus one for the Christmas holy day itself.”  Here is a poem I came across that refers to this lovely tradition:

Prayer at the Advent log

The small lights steady
against the dark,
Your flame is touching ours.
Today is the fifth day.
It is a safe fire,
the candles still tall
above the brittle wood
of the birch, the air
damp and chill.
But the days will draw us
inexorably toward
Your celebration,
and again we’ll stand
in the crackling air,
the first days’ flames
licking the log
with their shortened lives,
the length of it
threatened by Your fire,
Your love dazzling our eyes,
and, O Christ,
Your love searing
our nakedness.
(Jean Janzen)

God knows what needs to be done.

“In Advent we are studying God’s strange ways, so very different from our own.  God does not come to claim his kingdom with imperial might, overwhelming the opposition; he comes in vulnerability, unobtrusively, changing the world in ways we cannot imagine.  The angels spend Advent saying ‘Don’t be afraid’, just as they do to the shepherds.  It is not their own terrifying presence they are reassuring us about, but the breathtakingly daring action of God.  ‘Do not be afraid’, say the Advent angels.  ‘God knows what needs to be done.  Come to the manger.'”  (Jane Williams)

A longing for God (repost)

For the past few Advents, I have pulled the same book off the shelf to read: The Coming of God by Maria Boulding.  It is, by far, the meatiest book I have ever read for Advent.  She goes right to the heart of the reason for this season: longing for God–and that longing being indisputable evidence of the prior longing of God for us.

Here are the opening paragraphs of the book:

If you want God, and long for union with him,  yet sometimes wonder what that means or whether it can mean anything at all, you are already walking with the God who comes.  If you are at times so weary and involved with the struggle of living that yo have no strength even to want him, yet are still dissatisfied that you don’t, you are already keeping Advent in your life.  If you have ever had an obscure intuition that the truth of things is somehow better, greater, more wonderful than you deserve or desire, that the touch of God in your life stills you by its gentleness, that there is a mercy beyond anything you could ever suspect, you are already drawn into the central mystery of salvation.

Your hope is not a mocking dream: God creates in human hearts a huge desire and a sense of need, because he wants to fill them with the gift of himself.  It is because his self-sharing love is there first, forestalling any response or prayer from our side, that such hope can be in us.  WE cannot hope until we know, however obscurely, that there is something to hope for; if we have had no glimpse of a vision, we cannot conduct our lives with vision.  And yet we do: there is hope in us, and longing, because grace was there first.  God’s longing for us is the spring of ours for him.

So take a moment, look for that desire in your heart however buried it might seem, and simply say, “Come.”

Advent prayer (repost)

Advent Prayer

Like foolish folk of old I would not be,
Who had no room that night for Him and thee.
See, Mother Mary, here within my heart
I’ve made a little shrine for Him apart;
Swept it of sin, and cleansed it with all care;
Warmed it with love and scented it with prayer.
So, Mother, when the Christmas anthems start,
Please let me hold your baby–in my heart.

Sr. Maryanna, O.P.

Robert, Cyril. Mary Immaculate: God’s Mother and Mine. New York: Marist Press, 1946.

There is a seeking

“In our time there is a seeking, an anxious groping and searching for divine things.  A great loneliness has come over our time, a loneliness that is found only where godforsakenness reigns.  In the midst of our large cities, in the greatest, most frantic activity of untold masses of people, we see the greatest amount of loneliness and homelessness.

“But the longing grows that the time will nonetheless come again when God dwells among people, when God lets himself be found.  In the middle of this frantic activity and vociferous extolling of new ways and means stand the one word of Jesus Christ: ‘I am with you. . . ‘ (Matt. 28:20).  He does not prescribe ways in which we can reach him.  Rather, he says quite simply: “I am with you.”

“None of us lives a life so rushed that it is impossible for us to find even ten minutes a day, in the morning or evening, when we can let everything around us become quiet and submit ourselves completely to eternity, when we can let it speak to us and ask it about ourselves.  In that way we an look very deeply within ourselves and quite far beyond ourselves.  That might happen by looking at a few Bible verses or, even better, by becoming utterly free and letting our soul make its way to the Father’s house, to its home, in which it will find rest.”

Listen!  I am standing at the door, knocking:
if you hear my voice and open the door,
I will come in to you and eat with you,
and you with me.  (Rev. 3.20)

Advent and seeds

A reflection from Caryll Houselander:

A seed contains all the life and loveliness of the flower, but it contains it in a little hard black pip of  a thing which even the glorious sun will  not enliven unless it is buried under the earth.  There must be a period of gestation before anything can flower.

If only those who suffer would be patient with their earthly humiliations and realize that Advent is not only the time of growth but also of darkness and hiding and waiting, they would trust, and trust rightly, that Christ is growing in their sorrow, and in due season all the fret and strain and tension of it will give place to a splendor of peace.   (Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God, p. 36)

“Open the door!”

 The Light of the World
Holman Hunt

“In Advent, God does not first confront us with our sin; instead we are invited to prepare to make God welcome; we are invited to take the initiative, to find our best selves, to be willing to open the door to the baby in need.  God does not come into the world with a battering ram, but with a cry: open the door.”  (Jane Williams)

Advent Sunday

Advent Sunday

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh: go ye out
With lighted lamps and garlands round about
To meet Him in a rapture with a shout.

It may be at the midnight, black as pitch,
Earth shall cast up her poor, cast up  her rich.

It may be at the crowing of the cock
Earth shall upheave her depth, uproot her rock.

For lo, the Bridegroom fetcheth home the Bride:
His Hands are Hands she knows, she knows His side.

Like pure Rebekah at the appointed place,
Veiled, she unveils her face to meet His Face.

Like great Queen Esther in her triumphing,
She triumphs in the Presence of her King.

His Eyes are as a Dove’s, and she’s Dove-eyed;
He knows His lovely mirror, sister, Bride.

He speaks with Dove-voice of exceeding love,
And she with love-voice of an answering Dove.

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh: go we out
With lamps ablaze and garlands round about
To meet Him in a rapture with a shout.

~Christina Rossetti

Hope means hoping when things are hopeless

Advent and the little girl, Hope

Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all.”

– G.K. Chesterton

It looked unquestionably bleak.

In a matter of two weeks, the Nazis had roared through Luxembourg, crushed the Netherlands, marauded through Belgium and blitzed deeply into France. The French Army and British Expeditionary Force found themselves pressed onto the beaches of Dunkirk with their backs to the unforgiving waters of the English Channel. The Americans across the Atlantic made it very clear that they wouldn’t send their boys to any foreign wars. And Great Britain looked increasingly alone.

But as the grim events inexorably unfolded, the bulldogish Prime Minister Winston Churchill made it clear to his Cabinet: There would be no surrender. In the darkness of those days – days which anticipated the Blitz of screaming bomber attacks on the cities of England – Churchill growled to his band of brothers.

The House [of Commons] should prepare itself for hard and heavy tidings. I have only to add that nothing which may happen in this battle can in any way relieve us of our duty to defend the world cause to which we have vowed ourselves; nor should it destroy our confidence in our power to make our way, as on former occasions in our history, through disaster and through grief to the ultimate defeat of our enemies.

And within days, Churchill further pronounced,

I am convinced that every one of you would rise up and tear me down from my place if I were for one moment to contemplate parley or surrender. If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.

Hope.

That was the first and greatest weapon raised against the Nazi menace. Hope was the light that illuminated blood-stained rocks on embattled Pacific islands and cold corners of the blackest concentration camps. It fired the chilled soldiers in the wintry foxholes of Bastogne and it refreshed the dirt-coated liberators in North Africa. Hope wasn’t a component of victory; it was the key to it.

That is the essence of Advent.

In dark days of disease and loneliness, fear and guilt, sin and death, a dusty prophet declared to an enslaved nation,

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Upon those who lived in a land of gloom a light has shone. (Isaiah 9:1)

In a cultural backwater occupied by fearsome soldiers and short, unforgiving lives, a peasant girl was visited by a heavenly creature,

Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High – and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.  (Luke 1:28, 30-33)

An expectant mother and adoptive father, wise men traveling from afar, shepherds sensing a change in the chill wind on the edge of town – all were drawn by faith, but pushed by hope.

What is this strange thing, hope?

Perhaps the French poet, Charles Peguy, described it best in The Portal of the Mystery of Hope.

The faith that I love best, says God, is hope.
Faith doesn’t surprise me.
Its not surprising
I am so resplendent in my creation…

Charity says God, that doesn’t surprise me.
It’s not surprising.
These poor creatures are so miserable that unless they had a heart of stone, how could they not have love for one another.
How could they not love their brothers.
How could they not take the bread from their own mouth, their daily bread, in order to give it to the unhappy children who pass by…

What surprises me, says God, is hope.
And I can’t get over it.
This little hope who seems like nothing.
This little girl hope.
Immortal…

It’s she, the little one, who carries them all.
Because Faith sees only what is.
But she, she sees what will be.
Charity loves only what is.
But she, she loves what will be.

Yes, that’s it. Hope is a precious, vibrant, beaming little girl who loves not only what is, but what will be.

Oh, it is true. At times in our lives, things can look a little bleak.

But take courage.

The essence of Advent is a little girl, Hope.