Sister Doreen’s Reflections
In the new Hymn book published by the Anglican Church of Canada called “Sing a New Creation” there is a hymn called O Ancient Love (hymn #36) and each week of Advent I would like to share some musings from this hymn. There are four verses to the hymn, so each week will focus on one of the verses.
This week is verse two of the Hymn O Ancient Love
O homeless love, that dwells among the stranger;
O lowly love, that knows the mighty’s scorn;
O hungry love, that lay within the manger;
O living Love, within our hearts be born;
O living Love, within our hearts be borne.
Advent is an opportunity to do as Joan Chittister in her book “The Monastic Heart” writes: “In every beating heart is a silent undercurrent that calls each of us to the more of ourselves. Like a magnet it draws a person to a place unknown, to the vision of a wiser life, to the desire to become what I feel I must be – but cannot name. The truth is that this deeper part of everyone does not simply develop in us like wild grass. It needs to be cultivated, to be cherished, to be sustained.” I believe that Advent is a time to be still, to wait, to get in touch anew with that deep longing in our hearts for this living Love, that I so desire, to be born anew in my heart.
As we ponder that living Love, homeless, lowly, and hungry we long for that wisdom to teach us how to live, to know that right here, right now God has chosen to be at home, that this can be a gift that empowers us to new life, to communities of love, peace, and justice, that this living Love is born within us.
If we ponder the word Homeless, especially as it is twinned as Homeless Love, some thoughts come: did not have a place of their own, living without material comforts, unsheltered, not having stable, safe and adequate housing. There are so many homeless, unsheltered people living on our streets and in refugee camps. “There was no room for them in the inn” (Lk 2:7) when Jesus was born on that first Christmas. Mary and Joseph went off to a stable or cave, off by themselves, off alone. No space was reserved for Jesus when he came. There was no hospitality, no welcome. Because of the decreed census, there was severe overcrowding in and around Bethlehem. I thought how often there is still no room in the inn – the inn of my heart, the inn of our community, the inn of our world, to welcome Jesus, to offer hospitality to Jesus. It seems to me that we are surrounded by over crowdedness. Our minds are overcrowded with news and information, our hearts are overcrowded with innumerable concerns, our schedules are overcrowded with things to do, the malls are overcrowded with shoppers, the highways are overcrowded with traffic, the airwaves are overcrowded with noise, electronic devices are overcrowded with messages. With so much overcrowding, we run the risk of not having enough room in our personal, corporate, global “inn” to receive Jesus. We are at risk of being homeless, of not having a stable and safe place from which we can offer hospitality and welcome, both to ourselves and to others – a place to receive Jesus in whatever person we meet. Advent is holding out the challenge of how important it becomes that we set aside time and space to welcome Jesus, to make room for Jesus.
If we ponder the word lowly, especially as it is twinned as Lowly Love, some thoughts come:
humble, respectful, self-effacing, not claiming attention for oneself, modest. St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:4 come to mind: “Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way …” In this hymn we are thinking about, we read, ‘O lowly love that knows the mighty’s scorn… and I also hear the words “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (I Peter 5:5) We are so often confronted with a feeling of powerlessness, and yet, this might also be a gift, since it seems to me to be the door that opens our vulnerability. Robert Morris in his book “Meek as Moses” wrote: “true humility is not the result of self-depreciation. It is, rather, the fruit of a keen-eyed ability to see oneself realistically, as a flawed and gifted creature like all other human beings.” It is when we are stretched by humility and open in vulnerability, that we often find ourselves supported by the openness, generosity, and compassion of others, an exchange that is grace filled. Lowly love leads us to love and honour others, to be able to live with others without judgement, and to see ourselves and our experiences with an honest assessment.
If we ponder the word hunger, especially as it is twinned as Hungry love, some thoughts come: need for food, emptiness, having a strong desire or craving, eager, keen, starved, and athirst. I am reminded of the Hymn in Common Praise (Anglican Church of Canada) #540 which is a paraphrase of Psalm 42 “Just as the deer longs for the water brooks, so longs my soul for you, O Lord my God. All that I am thirsts for the living spring of your kind presence welling deep within.” The whole story of the Bible is a love story between God and us, all people, all creation. God yearns for us. In fact, this may be the most important thing we ever learn about God—that he yearns for relationship with us. Isaiah 30:18 says, “… the Lord longs to be gracious to you … He rises to show you compassion.” Our own longing for a deeper relationship with God, with ourselves, with each other is born of God’s deep longing for us. For me, when I ponder hungry love, some of the words of another hymn come as whispers in my ears and heart – they express my hunger and longing and give an answer to that hunger. “All who hunger, gather gladly, holy manna is our bread. Come from loneliness and longing. Here, in peace, we have been led. You that yearn for days of fullness, all around us is our food. Taste and see the grace eternal. Taste and see that God is good. (Hymn 30 in Sing a New Creation by Sylvia Dunstan).
Love, homeless, lowly, hungry – O living Love, within our hearts be born. It calls us and allows us to feel a part of something infinitely bigger, older, deeper, and grander. These words take us out of ourselves and place us in the Presence of the Living God. They convey us, while still very much grounded in this world God loves so much, to the experience of St Teresa of Avila’s prayer: Christ has no body now but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christs compassion must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which Christ is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which Christ is to bless us now.” They stir in us something at once strange and yet richly familiar as our deepest being resounds with the recognition of ‘the image of God’ as we reach out to grasp it in the God who descends to our world daily to reach out to us with infant hands.
The Advent challenge of imagining and dreaming of the reversals of all the ills that rob us of fullness of life is not wishful stargazing. It is about being bold and putting the common good of our life together as a priority as we ponder the homeless, lowly, hungry Love. This is how God opts to work in us as a living Love born in our hearts.
Hoping for some exciting reversals this Advent and Christmas? Well, may pondering Homeless, Lowly, Hungry Love break out into our midst, shake up, and turn upside down our complacency, privilege, and gatekeeping to make possible life-flourishing communities that are just, open, and joyful – waiting, longing, expecting a Living Love to be born anew in our hearts.