Advent Benedictine Spirituality Christ Lectio Divina Liturgy O Antiphons Scripture Uncategorized Vespers

The light the darkness cannot overcome.

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From the archives for 21 December, O rising sun:

Today we sing the 5th O antiphon, O Oriens, O rising sun. On the darkest day of the year we’re called to sing out the glory of the eternal light. As we face challenging and uncertain times the liturgy offers us this:

“O rising sun, glory of the eternal light, and sun of justice: come shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.”

Coming on the shortest day, at the darkest point of the year, it tells us that however deep the darkness is it will not overpower us. It points us beyond death and darkness, proclaiming that they will not have the last word. It reminds us that seeds of light that are already quietly germinating in that deep darkness, preparing to bring us into new life.

It seems to me that it’s especially important to focus on the coming of the light in this dark time of year, and in these dark times we live in. Otherwise it might be too tempting to succumb to that darkness that can seem so all embracing.

Whatever we might be facing. However bleak things might feel or appear to us the light of Christ will come into our lives with it’s promise of new life and hope just as the sun will return and the days lengthen.

In these dark days where is the eternal light beginning to dawn in your life?

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Called to be free.

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From the Archives for the 4th O antiphon. Today at Vespers we’ll sing the 4th O antiphon, O Clavis David, O key of David”:

“O key of David, and ruler of the house of Israel: who open and none can close: close and none may open: come bring out of prison the captive who sits in darkness and the shadow of death.”

It speaks of a deep and powerful yearning for freedom that lives within all of us. We each long for freedom from all that would restrict our growth and development. We desire the freedom to become the people we are called to be, to nurture the talents we’ve each been given. This yearning for freedom is deeply personal and individual, yet there is more to it that that. The past few years have taught us some hard lessons about freedom. The pandemic, the suffering of war, the economic crisis, the worsening ecological situation all point to the fact that this freedom we desire can’t only be a personal, individual freedom.

It has also to be a communal freedom, a freedom that is willing to sacrifice individual freedoms for the common good. It has to be a freedom that is willing to put the needs of others before our own. In chapter 72 of the Rule St Benedict tells us that Christ brings us “all together” to everlasting life. It seems to me the same is true of the freedom Christ offers us, we accept it for each other as much as for ourselves.

What would enable you to accept the freedom Christ offers this Advent?

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Drawn into new life.

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Advent gives us an opportunity to revisit familiar stories. The familiarity can tempt us to skim over the stories, telling ourselves that we already know the message. It can also invite us to a deeper engagement with the story that gives it a new relevance, allowing it to speak to our changing circumstances in new and fresh ways.

Today I’ve been reflecting on Mary’s encounter with the Angel Gabriel. It’s a beautiful moment of encounter between heaven and earth that’s always summed up for me in the words of Edwin Muir’s poem, “The annunciation”:

“Each reflects the other’s face
Till heaven in hers and earth in his
Shine steady there.”

Yet the beauty and mystery of the encounter do not undermine the challenge. Mary is clearly disturbed by the angel’s words in a way that is completely understandable. The annunciation changes her life in a way beyond imagining. It opens her to a world of uncertainty and vulnerability, taking her life in a completely unexpected direction. The angel’s response offers hope in that uncertainty:

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you… And the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow…”

His words take me back to the creation, when the Spirit hovered over the chaos to draw out new life. They offer hope and promise in an uncertain and challenging situation. In the chaos of our own challenging times we too need to hear that promise renewed. However chaotic and challenging our lives might be the Holy Spirit will hover over us drawing us into the new life God promises.

Where do you need the presence of the Holy Spirit to overshadow you this Advent?

Advent Benedictine Spirituality Christ Gospel Lectio Divina O Antiphons Scripture

Rooted in the love of Christ.

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From the archive for the third O antiphon:

The third O antiphon, O Radix Jesse, O root of Jesse, takes up the image of the root of Jesse that stands as a “signal” to the nations.

“O Root of Jesse, who stands as a signal for the peoples, before whom kings will be silent, to whom the nations shall pray: come to free us, delay no longer.”

For me it speaks of Christ, the root of our being, grounding us and nurturing us so that we will bear ” fruit that will last”. In these challenging and uncertain times is easy to feel uprooted and disconnected.

Life has become increasingly uncertain. Many of the things we thought were certain have become very unsteady. So much that we thought we could rely on has proved less solid that we hoped. The ground we thought was solid under our feet has turned out to be shifting sands. This leaves us all too aware of our vulnerability and fragility, both as individuals and as communities. In that situation the thought of being rooted in Christ, and Christ being rooted in our hearts is especially consoling and hopeful.

In these uncertain times what helps you to stay rooted in Christ?

Advent Benedictine Spirituality Christ Lectio Divina Liturgy O Antiphons Scripture Uncategorized

Finding Holy Ground in challenging times

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Some thoughts from the archives for O Adonai. This evening at Vespers we’ll sing the second of the O antiphons, O Adonai, O Lord God.

“O Lord God, leader of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the Law on Sinai: come to redeem us with outstretched arm.”

It takes us back to one of the passages of Scripture that touches me most deeply, Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush. Moses is engaged in the most ordinary of daily activities, looking after his father-in-law’s herds. Then God breaks into his life in its ordinariness, messiness and uncertainty in a completely unexpected way.

Curiosity compels Moses to turn aside when he sees the bush aflame, and he is drawn into an encounter with God which is challenging and life changing beyond anything he could have imagined.

In the uncertain times we face yet again this antiphon has a very particular message. It tells us that the God of love who came to Moses and the burning bush can also break into the ordinariness and uncertainty of our daily lives and set us aflame. Facing hard and challenging times it’s good to remember that the God of love who reached out to Moses because of the cries suffering people also hears our cries and comes to redeem us.

As we move through Advent where do you need the redeeming touch of God in your life?

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O Sapientia

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Something from the archives as we begin the O Antiphons. These prayers developed by the early church call on Christ to come and save us. They never directly used the name of Christ, but take up the titles used for the Messiah in the Old Testament. They change the whole tone of Advent, increasing the sense of anticipation and expectation.

The first one is O Sapientia, O Wisdom:

“O Wisdom, who came forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end of creation to the other, strongly and sweetly ordering all things, come to teach us the way of prudence.”

This antiphon always take me back to the Creation, to the Spirit hovering over the waters as God brings new life out of chaos. I’m always especially drawn to the especially to the image from Proverbs of Wisdom playing and delighting in God’s presence at the Creation.

We’re living in challenging and chaotic times that make us increasingly aware of our smallness and vulnerability. Our need for the hovering Spirit to draw new life and hope out of these chaotic times becomes clearer every day. By recalling our beginnings O Sapientia reminds us that our beginnings are in the heart of God. However chaotic and disturbing our present might be we are created and held in the love of God.

As we move through Advent where is wisdom drawing you back into the love of God?

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The promise of Good News.

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Today’s first reading, from the prophet Isaiah sums up the hope and joy of Advent and of Gaudete Sunday:

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring the good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

He offers a vision of hope that touches the deepest needs within us. We all know the pain of being broken hearted. We all experience a longing to be free from all that would entrap us. In our challenging times we see all too clearly too the devastating effects of poverty all around us.

In such times it can be easy to dismiss Isaiah’s vision as an unrealistic pipe dream. The reality is quite different. He wasn’t writing to a people living easy, comfortable, safe lives. Instead he was offering hope to a people defeated, oppressed and exiled. He offered this beautiful vision of hope and joy in a situation where hope seemed impossible and joy a distant dream. In the midst of their suffering his words reminded people that all was not lost even if it appeared otherwise.

His words are taken up by Jesus in Luke’s gospel, when, having read this text he tells the people “today this text has been fulfilled in your hearing.” His words were met with surprise and incredulity, yet they carry carried a powerful message for those first listeners and for us today. The promise of Advent is that if we dig deep in challenging times we will find glimmers of hope and with them the the joy and new life that the coming of Christ promises us.

Where is Christ inviting you to trust his promise this Advent?

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Secret Streams and Joyous Light.

Some thoughts from our archives for the feast of St Lucy…

Advent comes a the coldest, darkest, lowest time of the year. That time when we are most aware of our fragility and vulnerability, when it can be easy to lose sight of the Lord’s radiance. It’s the season when it seems most tempting to give in to despair and hopelessness as everything around us seems dark, cold and colourless. It’s a time when we need to be reminded that the radiance of the Lord’s love has not disappeared from our lives.

Today we’re celebrating the feast of St Lucy and this morning we we sang a hymn written by one of our sisters that captures both the darkness and the vulnerability of Advent and the hope that St Lucy points us towards. A young woman martyred for her faith, St Lucy reminds us that, however dark our world might seem, the light has not been wiped out of our lives, instead it is planted deep within us waiting for the right time to burst forth into new life. This morning we sang:

Deep in the darkness seeds of light are sown,
The joyous Light the dark has never known;
Beneath the ground the living waters sing,
And secret streams new life, new gladness bring:
Before the seas were shaped the Fountain played,
And Light shone out before the stars were made.

The words of the hymn offer us hope. They remind me that however dark life might seem there are seeds of light hidden in the darkness, waiting, germinating, preparing to put out shoots when the time is right. As we approach the shortest day, the lowest point of the year I am grateful for St Lucy’s gentle light reminding us to look towards the Lord’s radiance and directing us to new life and new hope.

What seeds of light are sown through your darkness this Advent?

Advent Benedictine Spirituality Christ Gospel Lectio Divina Scripture Uncategorized

Consolation and Preparation

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I always think that in Advent the Sunday readings set the theme for the whole week. This week the themes are consolation and preparation. In the first reading Isaiah offers consolation:

“Console my people, console them, says your God.”

His words remind me that we carry our suffering, pain and brokenness with us through Advent, and that the Messiah he calls us to prepare for will bring comfort and healing.

His call to prepare a way in our hearts for the coming of the Lord is picked up in the gospel where John the Baptist echoes Isaiah’s call. Mark writes:

“A voice cries in the wilderness: prepare away for the Lord, make his paths straight.”

Our minds and our hearts are full of preparations in Advent. As we speed toward Christmas they are necessarily full of plans to arrange cards and presents, food, parties, church services, liturgies and all kinds of gatherings. When we hear the call of these readings it can feel like there is no space left for any more preparation in the busyness of our lives.

Advent is about a different sort of preparation. It involves taking time to look within our hearts. It’s a time for acknowledging and accepting inner wilderness we all carry within us, and for taking what steps we can to welcome Christ into it. That doesn’t mean hiding it or tidying it away. The Messiah we are called to prepare for wants to be invited into our lives as they are, with all their uncertainties, doubts and imperfections.

What might prepare your heart to accept the consolation Christ offers this Advent?

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In cooperation with God.

The Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937)

A reflection from the archives for the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Happy Feast.

Today, as we celebrate the Immaculate Conception I’m reflecting on the gospel of the annunciation through these words from Psalm (97/98):

“All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”

It brings to mind a blog post by Michael Frost, “Four paintings for the four weeks of Advent”. He mentioned Henry Ossawa Tanner’s “Annunciation which completely captivated me it very captivating and today’s feast seemed a good time to revisit it.

The painting encompasses both the divine and the human as Mary’s room, slightly messy with unmade bed and rumpled rug, is illuminated by the Gabriel’s light. But I’m constantly drawn back to the look on Mary’s face. It has such a questioning, uncertain quality that I can almost hear the “but how can this be?…” echoing through her mind as she tries to make sense of the strange occurrence.

The painting brings to life that moment when the angel, having delivered his message waits, with bated breath, for Mary to give her consent to work with God for our salvation. It reminds me of a sermon by St Bernard of Clairvaux who writes:

“The angel is waiting for your answer, it is time for him to return to the God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady…If you consent straightaway shall we be saved…by one little word of yours in answer shall we all be made alive.”

As I reflect on this moment when the world waits for Mary’s consent I am filled with awe in the presence of a God who invites our cooperation in the work of salvation.

Where is God inviting you to participate in the work of salvation today?