At the beginning of Advent Isaiah’s dream gave us a vision of hope for a fragile people in the midst of political and religious uncertainty. This dream was pondered and reflected on over centuries raising expectations of how its fulfilment would look.
But dreams are surprising things, they’re not quite what they seem, and their fulfilment doesn’t look quite how we expected. In many ways, I think Christmas, the fulfilment of Isaiah’s dream, is like that. Like the Israelites we are expecting a messiah who will “wield authority over the nations and adjudicate between many peoples.” (Isaiah 5:4) But what we appear to get is something very different, a baby, born to an unknown mother in dubious circumstances. It appears that the coming of the Messiah is quieter, smaller and far more interwoven in the nitty-gritty of ordinary human life and relationships than we have expected.
And this has important implications for us. Our expectations so often deeply affect what we are able to see. I know I’ve very often been caught out when I’ve been looking for something and can’t find it because it’s not in the kind of packaging I’m expecting to see. Something similar can happen at Christmas, our expectations of what the coming of the Messiah means blinds us to the quiet presence of God in our midst today. As approach Christmas in the midst of our own political and religious uncertainty what will help you to see the presence of the Messiah in the nitty-gritty of your life?
Image: Turvey Abbey, layout : Corel Snapfire Plus I
On 13th December the peoples of Scandinavia celebrate the Feast of St Lucy. Despite being born in Copenhagen and brought up with a good deal of Scandinavian influence, it was only in the monastery that I discovered St Lucy. As a child I attended several ‘St Lucy parties’ and looked on in awe as one girl would be chosen to dress in white and wear a wreath of candles on her head. St Lucy, herald of Christ and bringer of light to a darkened world, all but passed me by amid the excitement of a pre-Christmas party.
Here in the monastery at Turvey, St Lucy has been celebrated for many years, as our former Prioress, M.Lucia Antonissen, kept her Feastday on this day. In terms of the liturgical calendar, St Lucy is classed as a Memoria and therefore doesn’t have special readings at Mass. However, some years ago, one of our sisters wrote two beautifully poetic hymns which we now use at Lauds and Vespers. You’ll find the text of my favourite of the two in the presentation below.
Hymn for St Lucy
Each year as Advent begins I am drawn afresh to the writings of the prophet Isaiah. For the next few weeks I’ll revisit well known texts, hear again the poetry that stirs me and be prepared to be challenged by ancient words and images. As well as listening to Isaiah in the Liturgy of the Word at Mass, I’ll also be listening at Office of Readings. Inevitably the sequences of texts overlap and images become overlaid. The more familiar I become with the texts, the more easily I’m able to hold together the wealth of images.
The first reading for the First Sunday of Advent comes from the beginning of Isaiah. Here Isaiah presents his dream.
The Vision of Isaiah, son of Amoz, concerning Judah and Jerusalem .
In the days to come the mountain of the temple of the Lord shall tower above the mountains and be lifted higher than the hills. All the nations will stream to it, people without number will come to it; and they will say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the Temple of the God of Jacob that he may teach us his ways so that you may walk in his paths; since the Law will go out from Zion., and the oracle of the Lord from Jerusalem.” He will wield authority over the nations and adjudicate between many peoples; these will hammer their swords into ploughshares, their spears into sickles. Nation will not lift sword against nation, there will be no more training for war. O House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
Writing at a time of religious and political uncertainity, Isaiah’s stirring vision offers hope to the fickle hearts of the people Israel. It’s a dream to which Israel will need to hold fast when they are faced with Exile. The message is no less urgent today. What are your ‘swords’ and ‘ploughshares’? How can you live the dream?
The first word of the Rule of St Benedict is “listen”. He tells us to “listen carefully to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.” (Rule of St Benedict, Prologue, V1). This puts listening very much at the centre of Benedictine life. We are called to listen for the Word of God, spoken through Scripture and through prayer, but also through the daily activities and interactions of our lives. To do this we have to try to be as attentive as possible to every situation because God could be revealed in any of them.
Every year our community retreat reminds us of the central place of listening in our life, and calls us to take time to become more attentive. During the retreat we generally have extra time for Lectio Divina. I like to use these times to respond in some creative way to the Scripture. I find this helps to unwrap the meaning of the text for me and allows me to deepen my understanding of its significance for my life.
This year I used the gospel readings from our daily Eucharist as the basis of my Lectio. Each day of the retreat I made a collage from photographs that resonated with the words of Scripture that had touched me most deeply from the gospel. When the retreat was over I made these into a presentation which you can view by clicking on the link below.