[In Advent] while [Christ] remained hidden in Mary, His rest was a tremendous activity; He was making her into Himself, making Himself from her. From her eyes He was making the eyes that would weep over Jerusalem, that would shine upon the wild flowers, that would close in death and open on the morning of the Resurrection. From her hands He was making the hands that would heal and raise the dead and be nailed to the cross. From her heart He was making the heart whose love would redeem the world. The same things happens when, 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.” – Caryll Houselander, The Passion of the Infant Jesus
In reading the above quotation by Caryll Houselander I am reminded of the many paradoxes of life – particularly of the Christian life, and very particularly the contemplative life. Paradoxes that leave us scratching our heads, but with the assurance that they are true. Rest as tremendous activity. Silence as joyful converse. Solitude as union with the Beloved. G.K. Chesterton asserts that paradox is a central feature of life and of Christianity. So we might as well find peace with paradox and dare to delve deeply!
But alas, this blog is not about paradox as much as it is about Advent and this notion of rest as tremendous activity. I don’t know about you but as much as I try, the last week before Christmas is just plain busy. The need of rest, the invitation to rest can all too easily be drowned out by all the noise. And yet, even in the midst of busyness, I find pockets of grace where the Lord is inviting me to a deep rest. Have you too noticed Him inviting you to this same rest? Perhaps it is in a moment of silence at the crack of dawn, before the hustle and bustle begins. Maybe it is in the still of night, with a cup of tea in your hand, gazing upon the lights of the Christmas tree. Perhaps it’s after receiving the Holy Eucharist, when all is calm and all is bright. Perhaps it is in the recitation of the Holy Rosary with the thought of the trust of Mary. Yes, no matter how busy we are, with a little attention, we will hear the Lord’s gentle invitation to deep rest. And within such rest is His tremendous activity. [As an aside, we are not talking here about the rest of sleep, but the rest of the soul in Christ, stillness, silence, etc!]
For me, this gentle invitation often comes each evening as we chant Vespers. From Dec. 17th through Dec. 23rd at Vespers, we sing the solemn chant of the Great O’s for the Magnificat antiphon. These chants are, in my opinion, among the most beautiful in the great treasury of chant. Each note evokes both solemnity and anticipation with a crescendo surrounding the crying out of the VENI (Come!). At the end of a busy day there is nothing so beautiful as that chant so immersed in age-old longing.
Oftentimes, being the cook, I arrive at Vespers just a little harried and sometimes covered in flour. But leaving outside the Chapel the question of whether the beans will be warmed up or worry of the salad getting soggy, I enter the rest of prayer. It’s an invitation that the Lord gives…to enter this rest. I sense the tremendous activity of this rest particularly when the Great O’s are chanted. My soul rests and Christ within me grows. My souls rests and Christ prays within me. My soul rests in the great longing of Advent and I am formed into Him. This is the crux of what Houselander is saying. It is powerful. And life-changing. And so imbued with hope. It is not dependent on our productivity or performance (so we can safely let our ego sleep – ah, now that’s a relief!). It is dependent only on Him, on His work of transformation, on His bearing of fruit. We quite simply cooperate by being still, and silent, and deeply at rest.
The Sisters and I deeply grieve the tragic loss of so many innocent lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School. As we pray for their souls, for consolation for their families, and for peace in the hearts of all men, there is an increased longing in that VENI that we chant each evening. Come Lord, come and console Your people. Come Lord, come and save us with outstretched hands. Come Lord, You are our only Peace. Come Lord, our hearts are grieving. Come Lord, bring light where there is such darkness. Come Lord, come and do not delay. VENI…
Our prayers are with the people of Newtown. May the Christ Child be a light to them in this dark time.