Dawning Divine: Prose & Poetry for Advent
Advent is literally around the corner. It begins officially Sunday, November 28. So, I am very excited to finally share this project with our readers, which I have quite literally been “sitting on” since June!
This winter devotional is the product of a little summer inspiration. You see, on a golden June afternoon, my soul teleported itself to Advent, the blue season and my favorite of the liturgical year.
When inspiration strikes, I have learned to stop and pay attention, to open my ears and listen — and most important of all to write it all down before it disappears! Most often, for me, this happens in the twilight time of night. That time between wakefulness and slumber. A time for capturing dreams and new ideas — and losing more than a little sleep.
And this is what I came up with up — a spiritual map of Advent’s 24 days, I call “Dawning Divine.”
“Dawning Divine” is a twist on a title from a book I read long ago by Karl Rahner. To put this digital devotional together, I scoured the bookshelves of my very own library. The selected poetry and prose are drawn from the works of mystics and theologians, novelists and lyricists, medievalists and Victorians, sinners and saints. Quotations all pulled from the pages of T.S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, W.H. Auden, Thomas Merton, John Henry Neuman, Thomas Aquinas, Madeleine L’Engle, Oscar Romero, and many more.
Follow the days one by one or mix and match. Read. Listen. Backwards or forwards. Either or both. May they engage your spirit, provoke you to thought, inspire your prayers — each of the twenty-four days of Advent. And Christmas, too.
And if you find meaning in this little ritual, please feel free to share.
Day One: Evening Hymn for Advent, 8th century
Creator of the stars of night,
Your people’s everlasting light,
O Christ, Redeemer of us all,
We pray you hear us when we call.
In sorrow that the ancient curse
Should doom to death a universe,
You came, O Savior, to set free
Your own in glorious liberty.
Come, Sun and Savior, to embrace
Our gloomy world, its weary race,
As groom to bride, as bride to groom,
The wedding chamber, Mary’s womb.
At your great name, O Jesus, now
All knees must bend, all hearts must bow;
All things on earth with one accord,
Like those in heaven shall call you Lord.
Come in your holy might, we pray,
Redeem us for eternal day;
Defend us while we dwell below,
From all assaults of our dread foe.
Day Two: Black Rook in Rainy Weather, Sylvia Plath
On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain.
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident
To set the sight on fire
In my eye, nor seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall,
Without ceremony, or portent.
Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can’t honestly complain:
A certain minor light may still
Out of kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then —
Thus hallowing an interval
By bestowing largesse, honor,
One might say love. At any rate, I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); skeptical,
Yet politic; ignorant
Of whatever angel may choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant
A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality. With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content
Of sorts. Miracles occur,
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait’s begun again,
The long wait for the angel,
For that rare, random descent.
Day Three: Walter J. Burghardt
The day after Thanksgiving the New York Times told of a 33-year-old local cabdriver whose shoulder length hair was tied in a ponytail. (Don’t get distracted by the ponytail!) About five years ago, this cabby “prayed to God for guidance on how to help the forgotten people of the streets who exist in life’s shadows.” As he recalled it, God replied: “Make eight pounds of spaghetti, throw it in a pot, give it out on 103rd Street and Broadway with no conditions, and people will come.” He did, they came, and now he goes from door to door giving people food to eat.
I am not asking you to stuff the Big Apple with spaghetti. But a New York cabby can bring light into your Advent night. He prayed to a God who was there; he listened; he gave the simple gift God asked of him; he gave with no conditions; and people responded. Here is your Advent: Make the Christ come who has come a reality, a living light. Give of yourself from one dark soul to another.
Day Four: John Henry Neuman, 19th c.
They watch for Christ
who are sensitive, eager, apprehensive in mind,
who are awake, alive, quick-sighted,
zealous in honoring him,
who look for him in all that happens, and
who would not be surprised,
who would not be over-agitated or overwhelmed,
If they found he was coming at once.
This then is to watch:
to be detached from what is present, and
to live in what is unseen;
to live in the thought of Christ as he came once,
and as he will come again;
to desire his second coming, from our affectionate
and grateful remembrance of his first.
Day Five: T.J. O’Gorman
Face to face with our limits,
Blinking before the frightful
Stare of our frailty,
Like a posse of clever maids
Who do not fear the dark
Because their readiness
Lights the search.
Becomes the measure of their love,
Their ability to wait –
An indication of their
Capacity to trust and take a chance.
Without the caution or predictability
Of knowing day or hour,
They fall back on that only
Of which they can be sure;
Love precedes them
No door will ever close.
Day Six: Orthodox Liturgy
The Theotokos has been revealed on earth in truth,
Proclaimed of old by the words of the prophets,
Foretold by the wise patriarchs,
and the company of the righteous.
She will exchange glad tidings with the honor of women:
Sarah, Rebecca, and glorious Hannah,
And Miriam, the sister of Moses.
All the ends of the earth shall rejoice with them,
Together with all creation.
For God shall come to be born in the flesh,
Granting the world great mercy.
Day Seven: Thomas Aquinas
Light of lights! All gloom dispelling,
Thou didst come to make thy dwelling
Here within our world of sight.
Lord, in pity and in power,
Thou didst in our darkest hour
Rend the clouds and show thy light.
Praise to thee in heaven and earth
Now and evermore be given,
Christ, who art our sun and shield.
Lord, for us thy life thou gavest,
All thy mercy stands revealed.
Day Eight: A Sky Full of Children, Madeleine L’Engle
A sky full of God’s children! Each galaxy, each star, each living creature, each particle and subatomic particle of creation, we are all children of the Maker. From a subatomic particle with the life span of a few seconds, to a galaxy with a lifetime of billions of years, to us human creatures somewhere in the middle in size and age, we are made in God’s image, male and female, and we are, as Christ promised us, God’s children by adoption and grace.
Day Nine: From the Stable to the Cross, Edith Stein
The Christian mysteries are an indivisible whole. If we become immersed in one, we are led to all the others. Thus, the way from Bethlehem leads inevitably to Golgotha, from the crib to the cross. When the virgin brought the child to the temple, Simeon prophesied that her soul would be pierced by a sword, that this child was set for the fall and resurrection of many, for a sign that would not be contradicted. His prophecy announced the passion, the fight between light and darkness, that already showed itself before the crib.
Day Ten: Mosaic of the Nativity, Jane Kenyon
On the domed ceiling, God is thinking:
I made them my joy,
and everything else I created
I made to bless them.
But see what they do!
I know their hearts
“We’re descended from
Cain. Evil is nothing new,
so, what does it matter now,
If we shell the infirmary,
and the well where the fearful
and rash alike must
come for water?”
God thinks Mary into being.
Suspended at the apogee
of the golden dome,
she curls in a brown pod,
and inside her the mind
of Christ, cloaked in blood,
lodges and begins to grow.
Day Eleven: The Wreck of the Deutschland, Gerard Manley Hopkins
Now burn new born to the world,
Double natured name,
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.
Day Twelve: Sojourner Truth
That man say we can’t have as much rights as a man ‘cause Christ wasn’t a woman. Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman. Man had nothing to do with that.
Day Thirteen: Martin Luther King, Jr.
I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would love to have a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will and he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy tonight, I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
Day Fourteen: Thomas Merton
The Advent mystery is the beginning of the end of all in us that is not yet Christ.
Day Fifteen: Hasidic Tale told by Elie Wiesel
Master of the Universe, know that the children of Israel are suffering too much; they deserve redemption, they need it. But if, for reasons unknown to me, you are not willing, not yet, then redeem all the other nations, but do it soon!
Day Sixteen: The Wasteland, T.S. Eliot
This is the dead land
This is the cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.
It is like this
In death’s other kingdom
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.
Day Seventeen: Rubem Alves
Hope is the presentiment that the imagination is more real, and reality less real, than we had thought. It is the sensation that the last word does not belong to the brutality of facts with their oppression and repression. It is the suspicion that reality is far more complex than realism would have us believe, that the frontiers of the possible are not limited by the limits of the present, and that miraculously and surprisingly, life is readying the creative event that will open the way to freedom and resurrection.
Day Eighteen: A Hebrew Song
I believe with all my belief
in the coming of the messiah.
And even if there is a delay,
Day Nineteen: Jean Vanier
Our brokenness is the wound through which
the full power of God
can penetrate our being
and transfigure us in God.
Loneliness is not something from which we must flee
but the place where we can cry out to God,
where God will find us and we can find God.
Yes, through our wounds
the power of God can penetrate us
and become like rivers of living water
to irrigate the arid earth within us.
Thus, we may irrigate the arid earth of others,
so that hope and love are reborn.
Day Twenty: Gertrude von le Fort
Your voice speaks:
in my arms, I still carry flowers from the wilderness,
the dew on my hair is from the valleys of the dawn
I have prayers that the meadows lend an ear to, I know
how storms are tempered, how water is blest.
I carry in my womb the secrets of the desert, on my head
the noble web of ancient thought.
For I am mother to all Earth’s children: why do you scorn
me, world, when my Heavenly Father makes me
Behold, in me long-vanished generations still kneel, and
Out of my soul many pagans shine toward the infinite.
I lay hidden in the temples of their Gods, I was darkly
present in the sayings of the wise-men.
I was on their towers with their star-gazers, I was with the
Solitary women on whom the spirit descended.
I was the desire of all times.
I am their great union, I am their eternal oneness.
I am the way of all their ways, on me the millennia are
drawn to God.
Day Twenty-One: W.H. Auden
Since Adam, being free to choose,
Chose to imagine he was free
To choose his own necessity,
Lost in his freedom, Man pursues
The shadow of his images;
Today the Unknown seeks the known;
What I am willed to ask, your own
Will has to answer; child, it lies
Withing your power of choosing to
Conceive the Child who chooses you.
Day Twenty-Two: G.K. Chesterton
Good news; but if you ask me what it is, I know not;
It is a track of feet in the snow,
It is a lantern showing a path,
It is a door set open.
Day Twenty-Three: Oscar Romero
No one can celebrate
a genuine Christmas
without being truly poor.
The self-sufficient, the proud,
those who, because they have
everything, look down on others,
those who have no need
even of God – for them there
will be no Christmas.
Only the poor, the hungry,
those who need someone
to come on their behalf,
will have that someone.
that someone is God.
Without poverty of spirit
there can be no abundance of God.
Day Twenty-Four: Farewell Advent, English Carol, 15th c.
Farewell, Advent: Christmas is come;
Farewell from us both all and some.
With patience thou hast us fed
And made us go hungry to bed
For lack of meat, we near died;
Farewell from us both all and some.
While thou hast been within our house,
We ate no puddings and no sauce,
But stinking fish not worth a louse;
Farewell from us both all and some.
Our bread was brown, our ale was thin,
Our bread was musty in the bin,
Our ale sour or we did begin;
Farewell from us both all and some.
The time of Christ’s natal feast,
Will be merry, great and small,
And thou shalt go out of this hall;
Farewell from us both all and some.
Christmas Day: Karl Rahner
It is both terrible and comfortable to dwell in the inconceivable nearness of God, and so to be loved by God that the first and last gift is infinity is inconceivability itself. But we have no choice. God is with us.
Spirituality The Episcopal Church Advent Christmas Clergy Podcast Seasonal Devotional The Rev. Joan L. Peacock
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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog
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