Saturday, December 10, 2022

To Be of Use: More on Advent

One of my favorite scenes at the monastery these days can be spotted in our courtyard. Each Advent one of our sisters decorates with lights. It used to be just the magnolia tree, but now it has extended to the bushes on the west side of the courtyard. And this year, another extension! Look at Mary herself!

Salve Regina!

It makes me think of a Marge Piercy poem I love.

To be of use
Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Mary wants to be of use, too.

We know Mary isn't the passive young mother in the way history has portrayed her. No, she was fully submerged in the task of being the Mother of God, and she is a model for us today. She, too, is an incarnation of God's love in our world—teaching us mercy, compassion, resiliency, and courage. No wonder God opted for incarnation; we, too, are here to be put to use.


My friend shared with me a most beautiful rendition of the first lines of Isaiah 54 from the group Sweet Honey in the Rock—Sing Oh Barren One. It's worth the 12 minutes, I promise!


I just finished a book called lighter by yung pueblo. The cover has the appearance a self-help book, which can be off-putting to me, but I found it to be one of the most profound books that I've read about doing inner work, i.e. making it an appropriate and beautiful Advent read.

In between his prose, yung pueblo (It's a pseudonym meaning "young people" and signifying that "humanity is entering an era of remarkable growth and healing, when many will expand their self-awareness and release old burdens.") intersperses some short, thought-provoking poetry.

It's that inner work, or as monastics would call it—conversatio—that allows us to more fully express the truth of incarnation.

Here's an example of these poems, one which I think is also fitting for this liturgical season:

we allow ourselves to love because it's worth the risk
even though there is the chance of loss or hurt
we take the leap again and again
because love is one of the best parts of being alive
we don't do it because it's easy
we do it because connection makes everything brighter

Let us keep taking the risks of love—even when it doesn't feel useful, even when we feel barren.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Pax in Terra: A Meditation from Pema Chödrön

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