Four Advent Sonnets for my 2019 Christmas Story
Ever since I was seven years old I have written a Christmas story with my family. This is a cherished tradition. I invite you into my living room to share in what I wrote this year. Advent has traditional characters that help us walk through the active wait of the season. The Prophets, John the Baptist, Mary and sometimes Joseph, and the Shepherds. Each personage in their ordinariness helps us embrace the grand miracle of the incarnation. As part of my meditations this year, I wrote these Four Advent Sonnets . Their form is the Petrarchan Sonnet which has a rhyme scheme of ABBAABBACDDECE. I like the puzzle of finding words that fit the form and the opportunity to embrace the paradox of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, but juxtaposing language and images in provocative and hopefully revealing constellations. Each poem is preceded by a short explanatory paragraph which may very well be superfluous.
I like to be like more than I like to be liked. Discovering my theological bedfellows in the ancient and recent past gives me so much hope. When my inspiration matches someone from years ago and miles away; when people I never met but in their books are my brothers and sisters in Christ; I know that the Holy Spirit is alive and moving. How else could we be of one mind and heart across these impossible divides? We are on a big team of hope. Among others, my time includes those listed in the poem: Gerard Manley Hopkins, Isaiah son of Amoz, George MacDonald, Moses the Israelite, Clive Staples (C.S.) Lewis, Miriam the Prophetess, Francis of Asissi, Menno Simmons, Amos of Tekoa, John the Revelator, Flannery O’Connor, and Julian of Norwich.
Prophets: Old Friends for New Foes
Thanks be to you, women and men of old
Who find me when I find you there beneath
Your dusty, years-worn, paper jacket sheaths.
The words I read are slicing knives through cold
Of lies so lonely and benumbed, yet told
As if they’re true by thief after lying thief.
Come now again to take truth from their teeth,
Incise the false and spit back truth so bold,
Gerard, Isaiah, George, Moses and Clive,
O Miriam, Frank, Menno, Amos, John
Sing, Flannery and Julian, your songs
The Spirit is resounding through these years,
Your brave imaginations help me dive
Into the fray of love’s defeat of fear.
Relic radiation is the cosmic background radiation which is a remnant from the Big Bang according to scientific theory. In the 2000’s we actually measured the postulated frequencies. The data we measured are called acoustic peaks. In this poem I play with this idea, a bit like playing with fire since I have not studied it enough to fully comprehend it, and the thought that came to me as I drank coffee with a friend: The background music of the universe is love. The self giving of creation is from and for love. Jesus coming as Emmanuel is the completion of a long ago begun project to be face to face with the creation that began from “In the beginning God said let there be light,” and “In the beginning was the Word.”
John the Baptist: Making a Big Bang
The relic radiation’s cosmic hum
Is thrumming from the beginning of time
And ever since, through eons on the climb,
We try and try to make the numbers sum.
Acoustic peaks may fall and rise un-plummed
But I know it’s the sound of love they chime,
And you’re aware that love itself is prime,
See this is what made Zechariah dumb:
Love undivided in hís life could ring too–
His son now caught up by love’s long-held drone,
His wife now with child and his mouth a stone.
“His name is John,” unloosed his doubting tongue,
And leaping John leapt toward his Jordan blues
To tell his tribe how love himself would come.
Our epistemology is completely jacked. We think we know so much more than we do, and we exclude whole swaths of knowing from the realm of knowledge. What a mess. I’ve learned this Advent that knowing is doing, loving is obedience, and loving and knowing go hand in hand. Mary’s yes and Joseph’s trust of his dream were unverifiable and undeniable at the same time.
Mary and Joseph: You Know You Know
Oh Mary, will they all disown you know?
When you won’t disavow your angel tryst?
Will they destroy your name if you insist
That screwed up story was from God somehow?
And Joseph, can a dream assuage your doubts?
May be and maybe not and maybe this:
Every hope you’ve had can be dismissed.
It doesn’t matter what it was about–
If visions, night-borne-angels, or your dreams–
Twas truth not proof that made you so unswerved
And faith that kept the promises preserved.
Twas hope that lit the room for your belief
And wonder still makes more things true it seems
Than any fact pretends it could conceive.
There’s as much purple and blue in the color black as there is, if there is, any black at all. Black crayons, black paint, black markers are all shortcuts no true artists ought to take save for monochromatic studies. The night sky is alive with color you see. Shepherds looking up were best to believe the sky-borne angels because they knew more than most what night skies were capable of, from cold to hope and even desperation. That sort of looking is an art in itself.
Shepherds and Angels: Looking Long
The nights are growing shorter as our view
Of Venus creeps up closer in night’s plan.
Light star by star unwinds the blackest span
Of sky with washes deepest purple-blue.
Where careless eyes will not detect these hues
We must look up and long to understand;
We must long for morning even more than
Ideas sprung from all that we held true.
We must know how small is all we know.
Our hearts can tumble down as stars can fall–
As sometimes angels rip the midnight pall.
For eyes adept at looking up and long
Were once met by much more than nuanced glow,
When shepherd hearts were filled with heaven’s song.
Thanks for reading. Merry Christmas! (It’s the 10th day of Christmas today)