Advent 11: Nunc Dimittis

My eyes have seen
yet my heart forgets,
eager to assume the worst.
I would be Simeon and yet
dismiss the word
still unfulfilled.

Only let me see, I pray,
yet choke to hear the words.
Sight is not faith; I must hold on
to all my hope deferred and keep
vigil with what mercy shows.

Do not dismiss me yet.

Christmas 6: Nunc Dimittis

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Rembrandt van Rijn – Simeon in the Temple, 1669

The story of Simeon has given the church one of its oldest hymns, called the “Nunc Dimittis”, after the first two Latin words of the song: “Now dismiss…” There have been many musical versions of Simeon’s song, but today’s poem takes as its inspiration a modern setting by the living Swiss composer Carl Rütti. Rütti’s setting, full of dissonance and peace at the same time, perfectly captures the tension of the story, a moment of jubilation, fulfilment of age-old longing and pure relief and release. The same mood is captured for me in the painting by Rembrandt, who tackled the story of Simeon at the start and end of his career. This is the second of his versions, left unfinished at his death. Is it fitting that he never finished it? Rembrandt caught many of the most poignant moments of Scripture in a manner both raw and sublime. I personally love the second version much more than the first, though the latter is polished where the former is rough. Yet the roughness fits the theme perfectly: Simeon’s praying hands stretched out with the infant Jesus balanced over them, his eyes barely open, his mouth open just enough to say this final prayer. I’ve tried to capture some of this in today’s poem.

Nunc Dimittis

After the silence, a cascade
of wonder, of sound, of light.

Before the darkness, a sight
of promise, of presence, of peace.

And in this aching and drooping of arms,
an answer, a dimming, an eternal day.

Now dismiss. I hold the day;
I hold the way that holds me into night.

20 Contemplations #7: Crux

image
Marc Chagall, "White Crucifixion"

…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
(Philippians 2:8)

Did He view the Cross from birth? Did crossbeams
In the stable tell Him where He’d go?
Did He see the Cross in treetops’ glow
As He flew to earth from Heaven’s beams?
Perhaps as Joseph carved at night, His dreams
Spoke to Him of timber, nails, a show
Of Roman triumph in their streets. He’d know
From birth, for He knows all. Yet did it seem
As though His life was bent to Cross? A sword
Would pierce His mother’s soul, so she was told
By Simeon, who declared that some would fall;
And as He learned to walk, to talk, to be
As humans are on earth, He knew from old
That cursed would be the man hung on a tree.

Lent: Enough 4

Praise Him that all our rags have failed:
      more longing then for Heaven’s clothes.
And praise Him too that faces fall
      so that we seek His more.

Enough that we now dimly see,
      and in ourselves feel death’s sentence.
Enough that we have glimpsed this sight
       and die to know its light.

Lent: Enough 3

Weary eyes:
your sight grows faint, yet Heaven’s gate
still opens up for you to walk through.
This is enough; O grace enough.
Let weary eyes now rest.

Like Simeon, though waiting lags,
this promise stands in baby’s rags and gives you rest.
Your rags have failed; His are your glory.
Eyes: this is enough. Now rest.
O weary eyes, now rest.

Enough. The shaking of your lids must rest.
No dream, nor fear: this is enough.
Eden restored; His sacrifice
gives clothes
to dazzle shame.

Luke 2: The Shepherds and the Temple

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

 

The child interrupts
           commerce,
                 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
            centuries
                  of longing, of waiting:
                        consoles, answers, pierces;
                      a sword, a king, a child.

Christmas Monday

Well: perhaps, you went to church the day before,
Heard Jesus hailed as promise kept, as wise
Old Simeon and Anna wept and saw
The saving one, a babe before their eyes.
Perhaps you picked some turkey from your teeth
And thought of all the washing to be done,
The relatives all gone, so now relief
From cooking up a storm for everyone.
Perhaps the Christmas tree is drooping now;
Perhaps the pool gives comfort in this heat.
Perhaps there’s too much light going around
And, victory done, you fancy quiet defeat.
Keep watch: He grew and walked and made His way
For summer sinners who always doze astray.