Advent with the Prophet Jonah: Day 9

“When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.

Jonah 2:7

It’s extraordinary how long we can try to live disconnected from the source of life. One of the things I value about Jesuit spirituality is the way it leads us to identify the sources of consolation and desolation in our lives, to pay attention to the things that bring us peace with God and those things that create unease in us. I for one can ignore the unease for some time, keeping busy, blocking out silence with distracting noise. All of this time I can feel that I am living, but it’s like I am functioning on an ever-depleting oxygen supply: soon, it will run out, and what then? Perhaps then I will blow up in anger, like I’m grasping at life on my own terms, or I collapse on the ground, unable to do any more, like Elijah in the wilderness. And sometimes I can revive briefly; some source of encouragement comes along with just though fuel to help me stand up again. But so long as I am ignoring the source of life Himself, it will only ever be short-lived, incomplete.

Many of us, like Jonah, can remember God when our lives are “ebbing away”. But can we remember Him when our lives are running along nicely? Can we remember Him when we are sailing in the opposite direction, when we know we are wrong but are too proud to admit it?

Teach us, Lord, to be uneasy with everything that is not real life, so that we will learn to long for Your life alone – even when it means surrendering life lived on our terms.

“Consolation” – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I don’t normally share other people’s work here but I read this gem this morning and it was so precious – especially the ending – that I thought I had to post it.

Consolation – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

All are not taken; there are left behind
Living Beloveds, tender looks to bring
And make the daylight still a happy thing,
And tender voices, to make soft the wind:
But if it were not so—if I could find
No love in all this world for comforting,
Nor any path but hollowly did ring
Where ‘dust to dust’ the love from life disjoin’d;
And if, before those sepulchres unmoving
I stood alone (as some forsaken lamb
Goes bleating up the moors in weary dearth)
Crying ‘Where are ye, O my loved and loving?’—
I know a voice would sound, ‘Daughter, I AM.
Can I suffice for Heaven and not for earth?’

The Consolations of Lent

Comfort sits, unexpected,
in our waiting with weakness.
No giant leaps needed, only
the baby steps of the heart
slowly learning contrition.

Begin with incapacity,
then the slow-dawning knowledge
that you are nothing but dust.
Dust transfigures at His breath.
Exhale in the sigh of your Lenten frailty.
Then inhale, inspire.

O brother in our humanity,
Elijah in the desert,
weeping Psalmist of the cross,
You comfort with the fast that says,
Take off your face. Take on mine.
Consolation begins where our pretence dies.

Marc Chagall, “Jeremiah”


Christmas 5: Heaven’s Eternal Christmas

Puer-natus-1553-lossius-melancthon-descantToday’s reading tells the story of Jesus being presented to Simeon, the faithful follower of God who had waited in expectation of the “consolation of Israel” for all of his life and could now be “dismissed in peace”.

In keeping with this theme of “consolation” – a favourite of mine at this blog! – today’s poem is a translation of an old hymn with an interesting history. Originally the Latin hymn “Puer Natus in Bethlehem”, it got a new life in the nineteenth century thanks to another favourite of mine, the mutton-chopped pastor and poet N.F.S. Grundtvig, who translated it to make the popular Danish Christmas song, “Et barn er født i Bethlehem” (“A baby is born in Bethlehem”). Today I’m adding another layer to that translation history, with my translation of the first six verses of Grundtvig’s hymn. You can also listen to a demo recording of the song set to my own tune – not an amazing recording, sorry, but it should give you an idea of how to sing it. I’ve also repeated the first verse at the end, this time in Danish, to show how the meter works in each language. May you rejoice in the consolation of not just Israel but all the world this Christmas.

A Baby’s Born in Bethlehem

A baby’s born in Bethlehem,
So rejoice, Jerusalem.
Alleluia, alleluia…

A lowly virgin, hidden, poor,
Delivers heaven’s Son, the Lord.
Alleluia, alleluia…

In a crib they laid him down,
The angels sang a joyful sound.
Alleluia, alleluia…

And from the east, wise men sacrificed
Gold, frankincense and myrrh refined.
Alleluia, alleluia…

And now are all our trials gone,
For on this day our saviour’s born.
Alleluia, alleluia…

So God’s people, now restored, can praise
In heaven’s eternal Christmas day.
Alleluia, alleluia…

Pink Cotton Promise (Glenroy Lent #10)

Even in new homes, morning has old narratives
formed by other mornings,
by schedules, by delays.

So I approach the day as though it’s been before,
as though
its parameters are fixed,

its possibilities known.
Adam beheld the first sunrise,
called himself inventor. I

almost ignore the miracle, too entangled
in strands of ground to see sky,

a scattering spool
of morning-pink cloud-thread
entwines my eye.

Not a word, as such,
but a message nonetheless,
a promise in this time of dust:

If this is how I hold the clouds,
then how much more…

And I am caught:

a moment between ash and new birth.
New Adam knows dust
and I am consoled in this knowledge.

20 Contemplations #16: Consolation

Michelangelo, “Hiermias” (Sistine Chapel: Seven Prophets)

With weeping they shall come,
and with consolation I will lead them back…
(Jeremiah 31:9a, NRSV)

Noise. The ages seem to verge upon chaos.
Yet crescendo is not crisis. What men
of old saw has not failed. Four hundred years
of silence did not climax now, to then
leave us empty. He always spoke gently
to the broken; to the proud, with warning.
Those with ears to hear: with kind intent, he
whispers. To the deaf, the patient dawning
will soon not be patient. There is abundant
grace for the longing wounded, or the pilgrim;
if you never sought Him, why now vent
your spleen upon the One you will pierce? Grim
the truth, endless the consolation
for the weeping on whom the new day shone.

Luke 2: The Shepherds and the Temple

Rembrandt van Rijn - Adoration of the Shepherds
Rembrandt van Rijn – Adoration of the Shepherds


The child interrupts
                 the daily graze of life,
                            the expectations
                 of a quiet night in the fields.

The child demands
            leaving flocks,
                  abandoning norms,
                         following the angel’s call
                     in evening disquiet.

The child enters
            the daily,
                   the simple: cries, shivers,
                          needs food and warmth,
                      yet transforms it all.

The child fulfils
                  of longing, of waiting:
                        consoles, answers, pierces;
                      a sword, a king, a child.