Response to the O Antiphons

Nobody knows how or when the O Antiphons were written, but they are first mentioned in the sixth century. They are used on the days preceding Christmas Eve, December 17-23. I offer them to you now, at a time when you may be more open to them. After the rush and intensity of Advent and the Nativity, after the blessedness (and bloatedness) of celebrations, I feel the emptiness that helps me pause and pray, albeit with more yearning than in the midst of all that sound and sugar. Besides, I wrote them on those days, and could not bear to share them yet. My responses are deeply personal, not meant to speak for everyone. But I’ve been told that what is most personal is most universal, so I presume to share them with you.

I

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.  

The wide world does Your will,
every atom and ant busily doing its work,
stars and systems shaping the space
of existence.  
Original.
Obedient.
"I delight to do your will" is true of them
but not of me.
I fill the space with flotsam
of my wrecked attempts
at improving on your wisdom.
Today my heart is open to let out all the angst
and welcome in the Native Order of all things.

II

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire and the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai;
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

When I dare approach
with closed lips and open heart,
a new sense is awakened: love.
Still and real, textured with presence,
heavy lightness, true.
My ambitious mind attempts description,
finding language flimsy, blunted, small.  
Drop the constant, clumsy consonants;
avow with simple vowels resonant: Ah! Oh!

III

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.  

From the beginning You created more than things
but hid in them a seed of Your life force,
for Love cannot make only one,
embedding life in life, from life.  
You are insistent that the making
carries on, in me, in all.
If there is any doubt,
a tree stands ready
to renew my withered spirit.  

Seed calls to seed.
I am created.

IV

O Key of David and scepter of the House of Israel,
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

I was content in the cloister,
safe from wildness without
until the day a door was left ajar.
My heart escaped before my mind could stop it.
Now I roam in the wideness,
grateful for the walls that held me
and the opening that set me free.

V

O Dayspring,
splendor of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.  

You call me from the city scape and hearth
to a spacious inner landscape,
horizon unobscured,
where I can watch the slow crescendo of the dawn.
The steadiness, the sweet return of morning's child,
hope's advent,
mysterious, winsome one
wins over the shadows of the night.

VI

O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.

There is so much more to making
than forming shapes.
There is the character of clay,
the knowing hand,
the promise of an image.
Love makes no demands on us
except to yield to her devotion
and find ourselves among her devotees,
proud citizens of her imagination
and keepers of her peace.  

VII

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Savior:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

We rode the creaking van through
rough non-streets of a squatters' suburb.
Once-villaged families sidle up to
a city that is itself more sprawling village
than metropolis.  Here it is monochrome:
red clay homes humping up from red clay ground,
hope fashioned from despair.
The mothers cling and lose their grip
from hour to hour.  Yet on they go.
Love's uneven rhythm clings to them, with arms
of the children they keep bearing.  

The jarring memory of hopelessness
since then is ostinato to my prayer
for all: O come, Emmanuel.  Ride the hills
and ruts of poverty, and take me with you,
Native Knowing One,
You, who holds the fathers and their children.