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Advent 3 Musings: O Ancient Love

Sister Doreen’s Reflections

Advent Three Musings: What are we waiting for O Ancient Love?

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 three of the Hymn O Ancient Love
O gentle love, caressing those in sorrow;
O tender love, that comforts those forlorn;
O hopeful love, that promises tomorrow;
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.” For me 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, gentle, tender, hopeful 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 gentle, especially as it is twinned as gentle love, some thoughts come to mind: quiet, peaceful, kind, compassionate. It was St. Francis de Sales that said: “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength. In the long run, the sharpest weapon of all is a kind and gentle spirit.” This was a quote that for me indicated there were depths of meaning to try to fathom, some wisdom waiting to be found. It is true that hard things always seem to break, while soft things are pliable and bend rather than break. There are many scripture stories that illustrate the strength of gentleness, one of the fruits of the spirit. I am reminded of this quote “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

If we ponder the word tender, especially as it is twinned as tender love, some thoughts come to mind:
Caring, kind, kindly, kind-hearted, friendly, soft-hearted, sympathetic, tender-hearted, compassionate. There are many scripture passages that call us to be tender-hearted, call us to tender love. Tender love is compassionate tough love …that we choose, and can be understood in Ephesians 4:31-32 “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” And in 1 Peter 3:8 “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as members of one another, be tenderhearted, be courteous …” Tender love is a hard challenge, and a blessed gift! When I begin to ponder tender love, there are whispers that come to my heart and soul from Elvis’ song “Love Me Tender” … love me tender, love me true, never let me go … love me tender, love me true, till all my dreams come true. You have made my life complete, and I love you so. Love me tender, love me long, take me to your heart for it’s there that I belong …” We are called to tender love by a God whose tender love towards us makes our life complete. Advent is an opportunity, for us to do likewise for others.

If we ponder the word hopeful, especially as it is twinned as hopeful love, some thoughts come: full of hope, confidence, trust, faith, assurance, certainty, conviction, acceptance. I began to think that it is when we are in situations that we can’t control or we can’t predict outcomes, those are the times when we most often find ourselves reaching out in trust, in hope. We chose hope, it is not a feeling. Hope takes us beyond ourselves, beyond our self-reliance into new depths of faith, of hope, of trust. Joan Chittister wrote: “Hope is the recall of good in the past, on which we base our expectation of good in the future, however bad the present. It digs in the rubble of the heart for memory of God’s promise to bring good out of evil and joy out of sadness and, on the basis of those memories of the past, takes new hope for the future.”

Hopeful love is a choice we make, hope born through self-reflection and at the same time of gratefulness. Hopeful love as found in 1 Corinthians 13:7 … bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Advent is our opportunity to take the gift of Hopeful Love reaching out to us and calling us to be people who live in hope and offer each other hopeful love.

Love, gentle, tender, hopeful – 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 gentle, tender, hopeful 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 God as Gentle, Tender, Hopeful 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.