Advent I

Newsie Bits:  It’s bitter cold.  Saint Aidan’s is coming along, looks very pretty inside, the guest rooms not only habitable, but charming.  Tomorrow (Saint Nicholas Day) a staff member at the Melrose School will appear as Saint Nicholas during chapel.  After the school Eucharist, a sister and I will drive over to Holy Cross to take apart the cresh scene:  boxes and books covered with fabric and river stones from the Hudson that we set up in the crypt this year.  The cresh was the “pilgrimage” destination on the Advent Retreat Brother Bede and I led this past weekend.  DO look at Bede’s blog about Jake the dentist’s dog this week at holycrossmonastery.com (which references our retreat.)

Here’s the Friday night address I gave.  Bede also gave an address about holy longing, and both our addresses  were preceded and followed by cuts from Prana, a meditative cd of beautiful singing voices producing overtones. 

I’m not just being romantic when I cite “telling stories by the warm fire” in the following address.  The sisters really sit around the fire telling stories.  For me, this is one of the joyous gifts of this community.

Friday Night Meditation:  Longing

Holy is your name, holy is your work, holy are the days that return to you.   Holy are the years that you uncover.   Holy are the hands that are raised to you, and the weeping that is wept to you.   Holy is the fire between your will and ours, in which we are refined.   Holy is that which is unredeemed, covered with your patience.   Holy are the souls lost in your unnaming.   Holy, and shining with a great light, is every living thing, established in this world and covered with time, until your name is praised forever. 

                                                                                         Leonard Cohen

                                                                                         The Book of Mercy  p. 89

  

Every autumn, when darkness comes so suddenly, when maples shed their deep golden leaves and the oaks turn sienna and burgundy-red, when a sudden wind catches and scatters the fallen remnants of once verdant foliage, a primal fear comes upon me.  My heart remembers every heartache.  A dormant corner of my mind awakens to remind me of every loss.  The aging joints of my once-lithe body ache in anticipation of the cold.     

 

Awareness of how fast the transcendent beauty of autumn passes, evokes in me an irrational sadness and an unquenchable longing. 

 

I know this sense of impending loss is not unique to me.  The human body must adjust seasonally to darkness.  The human brain remembers instincts basic to survival of the species against the primeval winter dangers.  Our psyches hold fast to that mythic sense of bereavement expressed in the story of Persephone and Demeter, life going to the underworld, perhaps forever, unless some deal is struck with the gods. 

 

I also remember that the cycle of the season does not end with my sense of unquenchable longing.  In a short time I always embrace the winter.  I smell a storm coming and I thrill to the sense of silence and the stark beauty of the snowfall.   I lovingly trace with my eyes complex patterns of the bare arms of trees against a charcoal sky.  I admire frost crystals on the window pane.  I scan the forest floor for treasures I can’t see in summer: ground pine, wintergreen, berries and ivy and lace-veined skeleton leaves. 

I dress to huddle against the cold wind, I unpack the old chewed-up winter quilt from my childhood.  I look forward to evenings telling stories by the warm fire.  I love the comfort foods of winter: potatoes and Brussels sprouts, apples and turnips, cabbages and Indian pudding.   

 

And every year I smell the spring deep in the earth long before any sign of new life.  I know where to look beneath the oak loam to find one pale promise of a blade which will strengthen and transfigure into a crimson blossom some summer day.

 

After these many years, I know now that the cycle of seasons gives me a template of something I’m supposed to learn and then let go.  After all,  when a hand points to a wondrous scene on the horizon, it makes no sense to stare merely at the hand. 

 

Seasons teach me the cycle of suffering and death, of resurrection and new life.  I know that time heals.  Just as time causes suffering, time heals suffering.  This knowledge never lessens the pain of life, but puts pain in context.  I know we have to live in time, and even the most intense prayer can’t rescue us from this most fundamental truth of human existence.

 

I also know that my unquenchable longing is a holy Sign.  

 

Still, there’s always work to be done sorting out the confusion of craving and fear, the sins that mask the holiness of longing.  But I also know, only through the steady practice of sacred cycles, that my sins are the stuff of sanctity.  By following the way of prudence, I learn that my weaknesses are veins of gold folded into the rock.  “Holy is the fire between Your will and ours, in which we are refined.”  (L.C. above)

 

In this refining fire, I discover again that when I pray my longing, my longing is fulfilled by the longing itself.  The longing is a gift.

 

Each season unfurls its signs.  The oak loam, the skeletal leaf, the crimson blossom, each sign in itself is gift. Each gift holds the secret revelation of that unseen sphere beyond its material nature.   Something sacred tabernacles within my own frail flesh.       

I know that when I pray my longing, I gaze beyond time, if only for a moment.  Yet that moment is enough to see beyond the cycle of seasons …  into eternity itself. 

   

O Wisdom, you came forth from the mouth of the Most High,

And reach from one end of the earth to the other, mightily

And sweetly ordering all things:

         Come and teach us the way of prudence. 

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2 Responses to “Advent I”

  1. MikeF Says:

    Wonderful! I just found your blog, Amma Suzanne, and I’m very pleased I did.

    “I also know that my unquenchable longing is a holy Sign… ‘Holy is the fire between Your will and ours, in which we are refined.'”

    YES!

    Advent blessings & all good things

    Mike

  2. Andrea Says:

    Rev. Guthrie,

    While I await a response from an email I hope reaches you, I decided to read your blog. I’ve started from the beginning and this is my favorite thus far. As I sit here in Lake Placid and October 22 saw the first snow (a dusting, but snow nonetheless) I am reminded of the pain that this “longer than necessary” season can bring. As I walk through this valley I am empowered by your message, as I have always been empowered by your messages.
    Thank you, and I can’t wait to read more!

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