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The Annunciation by Denise Levertov

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lecturn, a book; always
the tall lily.

Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whome she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
courage
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent. God waited.

She was free
to accept or refuse, choice
integral to humanness.

Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another in most lives?
Some unwillingly undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
uncomprehending.

More often those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.

God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes..

She had been a child who played, ate, spelt
like any other child – but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumpf.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
only asked

a simple, “How can this be?”
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
perceiving instantly
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power –
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.

Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –

but who was God.

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For a New Beginning

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

~ John O’Donohue ~
(To Bless the Space Between Us)

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Contemplatives and ascetics of every age and every religion have always sought God in the silence and solitude of deserts, forests and mountains. Jesus himself lived for forty days in complete solitude, spending long hours in intimate converse with the Father in the silence of the night.

We, too, are called to withdraw into a deeper silence from time to time, alone with God. Being alone with him – not with our books, our thoughts, our memories, but in complete nakedness; remaining in his presence – silent, empty, motionless, waiting.

We cannot find God in noise and restlessness. Look at nature: the trees, flowers, grasses all grow in silence; the stars, the moon, the sun all move in silence. The important thing is not what we are able say but what God says to us and what he speaks to others through us. In silence he listens to us; in silence he speaks to our souls; in silence we are granted the privilege of hearing his voice:

Silence of the eyes;
Silence of the ears;
Silence of our mouths;
Silence of our minds.
In the silence of the heart
God will speak.

~ From “No Greater Love” by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997), founder of the Missionary Sisters of Charity

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KEEPING WATCH WITH THE MAGI by Marjorie George

By now, the Magi are likely on their journey. Coming from the “East,” Matthew tells us, they are following a star. It is a journey of at least several months, and they know only that they are looking for a king – the “king of the Jews” they say.
In actuality, we know very little about the Magi – the Three Wise Men, as we have come to call them. We do not even know for certain that they were three in number; that assumption is based on Matthew’s story that the Magi presented three gifts to the Christ child – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They probably did not arrive at the manger scene when Christ was born, for Matthew says they “entered the house” where Jesus and his mother were. Perhaps Jesus was as old as two.

Of the gospel writers, only Matthew even mentions the Magi, telling the entire story in the opening 12 verses of chapter two of his gospel. Historians tell us the Magi were probably from Persia (modern-day Iran) and were part scientist, part priest, part astronomer/astrologer. That would not have seemed strange at the time. They were interpreters of dreams and may have been responsible for crowning new rulers who came to power.

Their journey, if they had followed the main trade route of the era, would have taken them along the Euphrates River through what is now Iraq, crossing over the harsh and desolate Syrian desert, and passing through the lush Jordan Valley before arriving at the gates of Jerusalem. They would have gone through small towns and large cities where they didn’t speak the local language. They would have found themselves to be foreigners, and they might have been met with hostility as likely as with hospitality.

They had set out not really knowing for whom they were searching, where they were going, what they would find, or how long it would take. But they had seen a star, and they couldn’t not follow it.

The question for us is – What is the star that each of us follows? What is the dream we have been given? What’s the voice that beckons us forward to something unexplainable that we know in our heart of hearts is the path to which we are called? For what are we willing to set out on a journey we know not where it leads? For that is the journey of the soul in search of God.

Thomas Merton’s famous poem begins, “Mr Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot be certain where it will end . . .” The spiritual journey, someone has said, is like driving at night. You can only see as far as the headlamps, but you can make the entire trip that way.

Our journey may take us to places we would rather not go where the people around us no longer understand what we are saying nor we them. There may be mountains and valleys and harsh, dry deserts along the way. The journey may take so much longer than we had planned for it to be.

What would be worth such a journey? If it is anything less than to see the person of Christ himself, we might ask ourselves if this is the path we really want to be on.

Whatever their reason for seeking the one to whom the star beckoned them – and it might have been political or diplomatic, not at all religious or spiritual – when the star stopped, the Magi were overjoyed. Then they entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother, and “they knelt down and paid him homage” and gave to him from their treasure chests. When they returned home, they took another way than that by which they had arrived. For their lives had been changed. They had met the Christ; the culmination of the journey had far surpassed anything that even these wise and holy men could have imagined.

As we approach the manger of the Christ child, now in a week, may we also be watchful for the star that God has set over us and which he beckons us to follow. May we have strength and courage for the journey and make it in the sure and certain knowledge that the One who leads us will bring us to himself; and that is all the journey we ever need to make

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A Road Map to Life

Life at this time of year can seem complicated and busy. Often we feel buried by the conflicting demands being made on our time by family, friends, and colleagues at work. Many feel overwhelmed.

In Luke’s gospel (Luke 3: 10-18), John the Baptist cuts through the confusion and gives us a clear road map. Quite simply: Live with integrity. Pay attention to the people with whom you live and work. Be sure to take time to be truly present to those with whom you come in contact each day. Your family simply needs you to spend time with them, rather than see you constantly in a state of busyness. Help those in need. Do you really need all the “cloaks” in your closet? Instead of trying to find a perfect gift for a friend, consider honoring that person with a donation to your particular charity. Carry out the demands of your work with honesty and respect. Often a smile and a friendly word is all that is needed to brighten someone’s day.

It is how we treat people that really matters. Don’t worry if that last batch of Christmas cookies doesn’t get made or if the house decorations seem less than perfect. Spend this Advent spreading the Lord’s love and compassion with those who share the journey with us.

~Professor Mary V. Connolly, Mathematics Department, St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, IN

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O Lord,
We are broken hearted . .
We are on pins and needles. . .

Our minds cannot embrace
this evil in our world.

And so, we give the children
into your tender care, and ask
that you visit us anew to save us,
for we are crushed in spirit.

Come, O Come Emmanuel –
weep with us here in this
darkness, then teach us of
resurrection power and life
beyond tatters and shatters.
Amen.

~ Bonnie Harr

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Life is this simple. We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time. This is not just a nice story or a fable. This is true.

― Thomas Merton