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Advent 4 Musings: O Ancient Love

Sister Doreen’s Reflections

Advent Four 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 four of the Hymn O Ancient Love
O suffering love, that bears our human weakness;
O boundless love, that rises with the morn;
O mighty love, concealed in infant meekness;
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 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, suffering, boundless, mighty 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 suffering, especially as it is twinned as suffering love, some thoughts come to mind … endurance, anguish, undergoing hardship, an experience of difficulty or unpleasantness. Again, in I Corinthians 13:4 we read: “Love suffers long and is kind.” Suffering is in our lives because we are living in a broken world, and long for that oneness and peace. We, each of us, are fragile, broken, small and yet splendid great people! We know our brokenness and we know our greatness. 2 Corinthians 8: 9 “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. In all the changing circumstance of my life, in all the changes and chances of this world that we live in, I am reminded of a song written by George Matheson and the first line of the first verse “O Love that will not let me go …” Suffering love finds its home in the midst of the mess of our lives and our world, “for when gentle silence enveloped all things, and night in its swift course was now half gone, your all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed.” (Wisdom 18:14) and bears our human weakness.
If we ponder the word boundless, especially as it is twinned as Boundless Love, some thoughts come to mind … limitless, unbounded bottomless, immeasurable, incalculable, inestimable, abundant. When I think of some of the teachings that Jesus held out to us, I am reminded of that occasion in the gospel according to St. Matthew when Jesus says that we should forgive each other ‘seventy times seven times’ (18:22), a number that symbolizes boundlessness. And I also recall the hymn “New every morning is the Love – the limitless, immeasurable and abundant love that God holds out for you and for me and for all the world. It is a boundless love that also causes an inner tug at the heart, a tug to make the choice of reaching out to offer that same boundless and abundant love and care wherever I can in the opportunities around me. God’s limitless love, God’s love without limits, God’s unconditional love, for you and for me and for all the world, this is a love that simply is. It is a love that has no conditions, is always available in infinite, or eternal, supply. Knowledge that we live surrounded by, upheld by, this unconditional love – this boundless love, perhaps during Advent, is also a call to a more courageous love on our part.

If we ponder the word mighty, especially as it is twinned as Mighty Love, some thoughts come to mind … possessing great and impressive power or strength, tough, strong. This God of mighty love is a God whose love is tenacious, strong, and will not let us go. Sallie McFague was quoted in a book “Earth Gospel” by Sam Hamilton-Poore: “…God is always incarnate and present, there is no place on earth, no joy or wish that any creature experiences, no need, or despair that they suffer, that is not a possible route to God. Whatever reality is experienced as despairing, cruel, and hopeless, God must be there also. If God is love, then where love is, God is; where love is not, God must needs be. In nature’s health and beauty, I see God; in nature’s deterioration and destruction, I see that God is here also. In the first case as a YES and in the second as NO: in the first case as a positive affirmation of God’s glory through the flourishing of creation; in the second, as a negative protest against whatever is undermining God’s creation.” Mighty Love, calling us to mighty love, strong, tough.

Love, suffering, boundless, mighty – 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 suffering, boundless, mighty 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 Suffering, Boundless, Mighty 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.