The Holy Child’s Song – Thomas Merton

Many of you remember Thomas Merton, but may not know he wrote poetry. This one is so beautiful for this holy season:
THE HOLY CHILD’S SONG – Written in 1944

When midnight occupied the porches of the Poet’s reason
Sweeter than any bird
He heard the Holy Song:

“When My kind Father, kinder than the sun,
With looks and smiles bends down
And utters My bodily life,
My flesh, obeying, praises Heaven like a smiling cloud.
Then I become the laughter of the watercourses.
I am the gay wheat fields, the serious hills:
I fill the sky with words of light, and My incarnate songs
Fly in and out the branches of My childish voice
Like thrushes in a tree.
“And when My Mother, pretty as a church,
Takes Me upon her lap, I laugh with love,
Loving to live in her flesh, which is My house and full of
light!
(Because the sky My Spirit enters in at all the windows)
O, then what songs and what incarnate joys
Dance in the brightest rays of My childish voice!
“In winter when the birds put down their flutes
And wind plays sharper than a fife upon the icy rain,
I sit in this crib,
And laugh like fire, and clap My golden hands:
To view my friends the timid beasts-
Their great brown flanks, muzzles and milky breath!
“Therefore come, shepherds, from your rocky hill,
And bend about My crib in wonder and adore My joy.
My glances are as good as wine.
The little rivers of My smile
Will wash away all ruins from your eyes,
As I lift up My hands,
As white as blackthorn blossoms,
And charm and kiss you with My seven sacraments.
“This seeming winter is your spring
When skies put off their armor:
Because My Heart already holds
The secret mortal wound,
By which I shall transform all deserts into garden-ground:
And there the peaceful trees,
All day say credos, being full of leaves –
And I will come and be your noon-day sun,
And make your shadows palaces of moving light:
And you will show Me your flowers.”
When the midnight occupied the porches of the Poet’s reason
Sweeter than any bird
He heard the Holy Child.

In the Presence of God

When we practice the Presence of God, as Brother Lawrence did, especially when we seek His Presence before the Blessed Sacrament during our ordinary daily lives, He pops in on us sometimes  at the odd moment when we least expect it.   How appropriate this little post, coming just as it does after the more heavy “Kenosis”–but that’s truly the way the Trinity works with us:  pouring out, then filling up!

I don’t usually go to bed till 12:30 or so, and spend some time with God before I retire, so the experience described in my poem below occurs occasionally:

IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD

Here I am in the wee hours of the night,jesus-laughing3
in the middle of my sleep time rituals,
checking the door, turning out the lights,
moving the pillows, tending to my dog
when a flash of joy stuns me. Suddenly
Your Face, your Name leaping in my heart—
ignites my drowsiness into a flame.
This instant bright now—I laugh out loud
with chuckling recognition—YOU again!
YOU again! magnificent YOU again!
How can it be, this night of so many nights
of dull and plodding, toss and turning
that YOU are here again, really here—Your SELF now
in this trifling drowsiness I know as sleep?
WAKE UP! I call to myself, startled alive,
ready to laugh, made giddy by Your Presence.
My heart is born again, my soul is streaming
in the wee hours, in the middle of the night….

[http://www.ccel.org/ccel/lawrence/practice]

“Kenosis”

“Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equalitJUAN GASCO 2 FACE OF CHRISTy with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself [~kenosis],
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,   becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.”
[Phil. 2: 6-11]

For years this beautiful passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippeans has haunted me. The Catholic Encyclopedia explains it so well [see entire text below]; but what haunted me through the years was that I was convicted with the realization that kenosis, a full emptying out, was the condition required for me, and for others as well, to achieve holiness, sanctity. This impression has only grown stronger over the years. Unless we are completely emptied of self-love, self-indulgence, the self-righteousness of the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son, how can we be filled with the Holy Spirit?

In Galations 2, 19 St. Paul declares: “I have been crucified with Christ” –how else but to be, like Christ—“sheared, denuded, stripped, then sacrificed—the Lamb of God. Jesus on the cross is the epitome of vulnerability: stripped, exposed, violated, powerless” [https://soulfoodministries.wordpress.com/2015/04/27/i-am-stripped-of-my-garments/].

St. John of the Cross and countless fathers of the Church would testify to this. In one form or another, with Christ we enter a dark night of the soul. Our recent beloved saint, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, lived daily this kenosis:

“In my heart there is no faith—no love—no trust—there is so much pain—the pain of longing, the pain of not being wanted. I want God with all the powers of my soul—and yet there between us—there is terrible separation. I don’t pray any longer.”

She continues: “I want to speak—yet nothing comes—I find no words to express the depths of the darkness. In spite of it all—I am His little one—I love Him….” [http://www.patheos.com/blogs/cosmostheinlost/2014/04/15/kenosis-reading-list/]

Even if the darkness is not persistent, the feeling of being emptied out endures, often growing deeper by the day.   Kenosis [a Greek noun] means being emptied out.

In my Love Crucified community, it is so clear to me that kenosis is the essence of the Simple Path to Union: “As I neared the end of my adoration time, I went back to DENY MYSELF and I saw there my kenosis, the stripping of the Path:
– to dig deep in self-knowledge,
– to strip to the wounds,
– to do always what is most difficult,
– to kill off the fake saint [the older, self-righteous brother of the Prodigal Son in me],
crucifying my love in order to enter the Bridal chamber of the Cross.”

What did Jesus do in His kenosis? Deny to Himself the enjoyment of His glory with the Father, His immunity from pain, suffering, humiliation, fear, doubt. To embrace the Cross was the ultimate kenosis for Him, as it is for us.

Let us exclaim with St. Paul his beautiful confession of faith:
“7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead [Phil. 3:7-11].
******************
Catholic Encyclopedia:
“According to Catholic theology, the abasement of the Word consists in the assumption of humanity and the simultaneous occultation [hiding from view] of the Divinity. Christ’s abasement is seen first in His subjecting Himself to the laws of human birth and growth and to the lowliness of fallen human nature. His likeness, in His abasement, to the fallen nature does not compromise the actual loss of justice and sanctity, but only the pains and penalties attached to the loss. These fall partly on the body, partly on the soul, and consist in liability to suffering from internal and external causes.

“As to the body, Christ’s dignity excludes some bodily pains and states. God’s all-preserving power inhabiting the body of Jesus did not allow any corruption; it also prevented disease or the beginning of corruption. Christ’s holiness was not compatible with decomposition after death, which is the image of the destroying power of sin. In fact, Christ had the right to be free from all bodily pain, and His human will had the power to remove or suspend the action of the causes of pain. But He freely subjected Himself to most of the pains resulting from bodily exertion and adverse external influences, e.g. fatigue, hunger, wounds, etc. As these pains had their sufficient reason in the nature of Christ’s body, they were natural to Him.

“Christ retained in Him also the weaknesses of the soul, the passions of His rational and sensitive appetites, but with the following restrictions: (a) Inordinate and sinful motions are incompatible with Christ’s holiness. Only morally blameless passions and affections, e.g. fear, sadness, the share of the soul in the sufferings of the body, were compatible with His Divinity and His spiritual perfection. (b) The origin, intensity, and duration of even these emotions were subject to Christ’s free choice. Besides, He could prevent their disturbing the actions of His soul and His peace of mind. [We see in the Garden of Gethsemane that He willingly endured the most intense emotional and mental suffering, refusing to mitigate even these—though He could have done so.]

To complete His abasement, Christ was subject to His Mother and St. Joseph, to the laws of the State and the positive laws of God; He shared the hardships and privations of the poor and the lowly. [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08617a.htm]

PRAYER:
Mother Mary, preside over my kenosis.
Lead me deeply into the Sacred Heart of Christ,
into Union with the Divine Will,
into the heart of Trinitarian Love.

Journey of the Magi

As I began to think about Advent this year, mthe-three-wise-men-sheri-wisemany thoughts went to the Magi, the wise men, and to T.S. Eliot’s poem, “Journey of the Magi”  [shared on facebook] which describes the journey which certainly took weeks if not months in harsh and primitive time:

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

I decided that my Advent would be grounded in that journey, a rough journey braving whatever it will take to deepen my hunger for the unknown King revealed by the Star.

Simultaneously, I rediscovered John Piper’s book, A HUNGER FOR GOD, a magnificent little book on fasting by a devout Baptist pastor, which I read a couple of years ago—I determined to reread it for Advent. If I do nothing else this Advent, I want to go deeper, truly to journey deeper into God, to be plumbed to my depths by hunger for Him and to renew myself as gift and covenant with Him.

I found utterly charming, yet again, the way John Piper begins:
“Whom have I in heaven but thee?
And there is nothing upon earth
that I desire besides thee.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion for ever.
—PS A L M 7 3 : 2 5 – 2 6 , R
–Charming because it is one of my most beloved Psalm passages, and finding it at the head of the book hooked me completely.

Of all the spiritual disciplines, I find fasting the hardest—it’s so hard to give up food. Yes, I know I can fast from other things, but nothing has a hold on me the way eating does. John explains: Christian fasting, at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness for God. . . . Half of Christian fasting is that our physical appetite is lost because our homesickness for God is so intense. The other half is that our homesickness for God is threatened because our physical appetites are so intense. The only way to increase our hunger for God is to fast. Otherwise, our physical appetites deaden our delight in God.

Piper refers to the “deadening effects of innocent delights.” Because the delights of normal eating, normal sensations, other activities—all in good taste, moderation—are far from sinful, we just don’t see how they anesthetize us, reducing the “sweet longings for God.”   Example: If you eat a piece of candy, full of refined sugar, then eat a piece of fruit naturally sweet and wholesome, the fruit doesn’t taste sweet because your taste buds have been corrupted by white, artificially refined sugar. So do so many “innocent delights” corrupt our appetite for God.

Then in adoration this morning, I reread a famous passage from a letter of St. Ignatius of Antioch, martyr and bishop of 110 AD:
“ I am God’s grain, and I am being ground by the teeth of wild beasts in order that I may be found [to be] pure bread for Christ. My love has been crucified, and there is in me no fire of material love, but rather a living water, speaking in me and saying within me, ‘Come to the Father.’ I take no pleasure in corruptible food or in the delights of this life. I want the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who is the seed of David; and for drink I want his Blood which is incorruptible love.”

This, I knew immediately, would be my touchstone. This passage is well-known by me and my Love Crucified Community. I have always thought of “Love Crucified” as Jesus Himself; love personified is Jesus—Jesus is crucified: thus Jesus is Love Crucified. But as I prayed with the passage this morning, I saw another crucial meaning here. It is MY love which must be crucified. Ignatius proclaimed “I am God’s grain, and I am being ground” [reference to his martyrdom by the tearing jaws of wild beasts]—but Jesus also told us, “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” [John 12:24].

Fasting enables us to die to self, a little at a time. And there’s no way around it; the love of God which is poured forth in my heart must be purified, crucified, mortified in death to self-love, self-indulgence, and ego that Christ might live in me. The passion and beauty of St. Ignatius is that “there is in me no fire of material love, but rather a living water speaking in me and saying, ‘Come to the Father!’”
His ecstatic exclamation tells us everything we need to know of self-denial and fasting—to taste the Father is to want nothing else. This is the depth of hunger which the saints knew, and which I am determined to know—a hunger to which all are called. I want to get to the point where I can exclaim with St. Ignatius: “I take no pleasure in corruptible food or in the delights of this life—I want the Bread of God.”

Each Magi tossed aside whatever he had known of normal life, pleasures and comforts of home and family, to endure a journey of untold privations—all for the sake of a Star which promised to give him a King to whom he could prostrate his whole heart and treasure. Was this folly?  How often he must have wondered, but persisted, hoping against hope, wanting to believe despite every obstacle.  This, too, is my journey this December,

Without the Holy Spirit as our Star, not one of us has a prayer of a chance to succeed in any Advent plan we may dream about. I will continue to pray this little prayer which I adapted many months ago from Father George Maloney:     O Holy Spirit, in utter poverty of heart I await Your Wind, Your Fire, Your Living Water to rush upon me that I may live Christ, and Him crucified.

We carry the Star within us.