Wednesday, December 17, 2008

O Antiphons, - O Sapientia

Today begins the concerted final liturgical push to prepare ourselves for Christmas. For more than a millennium, these prayers have been part of the tradition of the Church. The term "O Antiphons" refers to the the antiphons (short verses) said before the Magnificat each day while praying Vespers the evenings immediately preceding Christmas . Each antiphon focuses on a different title of Jesus, stemming from Isaiah's prophecies concerning Him, and focusing on a different aspect or attribute of Jesus. For those who don't know, Vespers are the prayers said in the evening as part of the Liturgy of the Hours-which is the praying of the Psalms done by the religious and clergy, and optionally by lay persons, everyday. There are particular hours designated for praying each of the many different Psalms throughout the day, and the practice essentially translates to the Church praying always-someone, somewhere on the earth is praying the Hours at all times. To me it is particularly moving to contemplate that we are also not only always praying, but that we are all also praying the very same prayers. That sense of connectedness overpowers this little waif, who has always struggled in feeling isolated and alone. The rhythmic and perpetual praying of the Psalms is also very moving, as I can relate to the ebb and flow of the Psalms, which sometimes are overcome with joy and others cry out, wondering where, where is God. So this week, I will post each of the Antiphons and some personal reflections about them.

O Sapientia: “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.” Isaiah had prophesied, “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” (11:2-3), and “Wonderful is His counsel and great is His wisdom.” (28:29).

"Come and show your people the way to salvation." How is it that Jesus comes to us? He comes not as a storm, nor as a mighty warrior- rather in His infinite wisdom and power, He comes to us as a newborn baby. He comes to us tiny and helpless and completely reliant upon others for His well being. He comes to us in total poverty, surrounded by livestock and dung.

It is an awesome thing to contemplate, that showing us the way to salvation begins with such abject vulnerability. It is a lesson which I think we often lose throughout our lives. We both construct ways of protecting ourselves from being vulnerable, and at the same time transform the practice of faith into something where we essentially try to work hard enough on our own to get to heaven, so easily forgetting that we are One Body and that we are in this together. But here in this Baby, we see that Wisdom has it that we are to bare ourselves wide open before one another and that interdependence is a virtue , not something to be overcome.

The "fear of the Lord" in the context of a baby is so overwhelming to me that contemplating it makes my eyes fill up with tears. I remember well, the fear I had when our oldest son (now 11) was born. I had never loved, nor been loved so unconditionally. Before he was born I had given two babies up for adoption. In those early weeks and months of our son's life, I couldn't help but be fearful that he might go, that I might lose this love, that now having knowledge of the depth and breadth of this love, a new gaping wound and emptiness would erupt if this little baby, my son, was now to fade out of my life. I held this little boy in such wonder and awe, and our interdependence was the impetus for so much healing in my very broken soul. If he hadn't been so needy, or wanted to nurse so much, I probably would never have fully embraced motherhood, as I would have left him with his dad more and gone out with my friends. If he hadn't been grown inside of and birthed naturally by and nurtured through what, up to then, I viewed as my worthless body, I never would have had the courage to say for the first time that I had been raped as my first sexual experience at age fourteen. I never would have taken that first step in beginning to heal from that horror which up to that point, unbeknownest to me, had defined my life. Peering at my wee little son, simultaneously brought up to the surface of my consciousness the broken past and the promise of a different, unknown future; a future both filled with promise and possibility and at the same time a new and deeper vulnerability than I had ever yet experienced.

Let us today contemplate this "fear of the Lord" as not one of being punished, but rather one of a radical transformation of healing and love brought forth by healthful interdependence upon one another. Let us view it through picking up our little, wet, newborn-smelling baby, gazing at his smallness , feeling our hearts intertwine. For it is through this view where true Wisdom lies, the essence of our universal vocation, to give love and be loved with wild abandon, even though we are afraid of what we might lose.

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