Monday, December 21, 2009

O Dayspring -- help for the sorrows of the world

I woke up this morning already weary. Around our house, the abundant snowfall of two weeks ago has become dingy and icy; holidays are started, but my heart is having trouble finding a holiday spirit. I miss my father, who passed away last spring; I worry about my mother who is facing her first Christmas in half a century without him (please pray for her!) and I am haunted by various ghosts of Christmases past, and my lack of seeming spiritual progress in all ways that matter.

I know the remedy from long experience, if I can only carry it out. It is to turn your eyes past it; not ignore it or deny it, just go past it. You find work to do; you try extra hard to be kind to people around you in little ways. You rest in the Lord -- you admit your inability to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. You slow down, you take more "care" because caring is opposed to acedia. But you don't stop, you don't allow yourself to give in. You allow the sorrow to sink in to your soul, because that is the only way to realize something it is all too easy to forget, that the world needed a Saviour and you do too; but you do not succumb to it, because you know that Christ came and He was stronger than those things. You allow yourself to be heartened by tiny little things that could be irritating -- the 7 year old gravitating around you as if you were the center of the universe, the loud laugh of the teenager, the prancing of the dog that hears your footsteps coming down the stairs towards the kitchen where he will soon receive his morning kibbles. You say, think and do Acts of Faith, Hope and Love. They don't have to be big. In fact, the tiny ones are better, because after all, didn't our Saviour come as something small, unnoticed, humble?

The antiphon for today is appropriate, and it consoled me to read it; it seems that my sorrow is something real, not illusory, but Something Else is stronger than that :

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: Come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

It comes from Isaias 9:2:

The people that walked in darkness, have seen a great light: to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, light is risen.

Chesterton wrote in The Everlasting Man of the state of the world just as the Dayspring entered it:

A dreadful secret seemed to be written as in obscure hieroglyphics across those mighty works of marble and stone, those colossal amphitheaters and aqueducts. Man could do no more.....

There was nothing left that could conquer Rome but there was also nothing left that could improve it. It was the strongest thing that was growing weak. ...

...The life of the great civilization went on with dreary industry and even with dreary festivity. It was the end of the world, and the worst of it was that it need never end.

In some ways every Advent is like that for us. I am sure it has always been that way to some extent, even when our society was more Christian than it is now. I am sure any person could always throughout history look around and see this person scurrying around like Martha doing all the right things but preoccupied with them and forgetting Who it was for, another person neglected and lonely and bereaved with the world rushing past him, another person, who looks more like me, lying in bed rather wishing the whole thing was over and "normal life" would return. You see magnificence alongside misery; you are tempted to ignore your own gifts and wallow in misery, or indulge yourself in luxuries and ignore others' misery. Dante describes the acedic in the Inferno:

Sullen were we in the sweet air that is gladdened by the sun, carrying lazy smoke within our heart...

Advent above all is a reminder that the bustling things, even the best festivities and the best philosophies of humans are simply not enough; they are nothing of themselves, but only something as they participate in the act of "caritas", of love and care. But we still have reason to be grateful, all the reasons in the world. The festivities, the busy-ness, the comforts are all gifts, if they are taken as such; not as things to rest in for their own sake, but things that represent what really matters.

Caryll Houselander writes of our Christian participation in Mary's task, which is the task of Advent, especially in these last days, and seems to sum up what we have by gift and what we can hope for:

...allowing the Infant Christ to rest in us, we wait patiently on His own timing of His growth in us, and give Him just what He asks, the extremely simple things that are ourselves – our hands and feet, our eyes and ears, our words, our thoughts, our love. Not only does He grow in us, but we are formed into Him.


  1. Hugs to you Willa. Sending up a prayer for her now.

  2. Oh, I relate to much of what you said. ((hugs))

  3. Thank you for sharing. I too am struggling with holiday joy. I am just trying to embrace Him. Kim

  4. Whenver someone beloved to me dies I always spend the next year blubbering through the holidays, birthdays etc. It means you loved him a lot. I'll pray for your mom. Prayer and family get me through.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!