Your First Word Was Light

Your first word of all was light,
and time began. Then for long you were silent.

Your second word was man, and fear began,
which grips us still.

Are you about to speak again?
I don’t want your third word.

—Ranier Maria Rilke. Your First Word Was Light. Ranier Maria Rilke, From The Book of Hours I, 44

____________________________

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) has been called “the greatest German poet of the twentieth century” (The Economist). I’m going to bypass writing a short biography of the poet and just point you here instead.

Barrows, Anita, and Joanna Macy. A Year with Rilke: Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke. 1st edition. New York: HarperOne, 2009. p 116.
You can find “A Year with Rilke” here, or through your favorite bookseller.

A Blessing (for all that is new)

The late John O’Donohue is one of my favorite writers for a reason. O’Donohue’s words open my eyes. I am posting this blessing for the benefit of anyone starting something new: students, newlyweds, young parents, employees and employers, homeowners, life circumstances, lovers and friends, it’s all here. Relish it.

Blessed be the longing that brought you here and that quickens your soul with wonder.
May you have the courage to befriend your eternal longing.
May you enjoy the critical and creative companionship of the question “Who am I?” and may it brighten your longing.
May a secret Providence guide your thought and shelter your feeling.
May your mind inhabit your life with the same sureness with which your body belongs to the world.
May the sense of something absent enlarge your life.
May your soul be as free as the ever-new waves of the sea.
May you succumb to the danger of growth.
May you live in the neighborhood of wonder.
May you belong to love with the wildness of Dance.
May you know that you are ever embraced in the kind circle of God.

—John O’Donohue, from Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong.
New York. NY: HarperCollins, 1999. 50

 

No Miracles, Please

remember barsabbas pastel

[When I wrote and scheduled the following post prior to leaving for school two weeks ago, I intended it to be a gentle comment on divine action. Then Dylann Roof happened. And because he wanted to start a race war, he killed nine black men and women who had welcomed him, their killer, to study the bible with them. The subsequent words of forgiveness spoken to Roof by some of the victims’ family members shows in the most heartbreaking, inspiring, and incomprehensible (for most), way that a different kind of miracle is possible. Hating the hater only brings about more hate. These families have shown us another way.]

What I love about the following poem by Ranier Maria Rilke, aside from everything, is his preference for an organic, and generative manifestation of God’s love in the ordinary over a display of divine power in the form of a miracle. It’s true, the fruit of our spiritual ripeness—shown through acts of love for God, neighbor, and all of God’s creation—is capable of generating new and vibrant growth well beyond our own sphere of influence. I know my part is to choose to be a carrier of the law to love God and neighbor, to actively be Christ, and see Christ in each person I meet, to be Eucharist. It’s not easy. Nobody ever said it would be easy. Still, I try.

No Miracles, Please
by Ranier Maria Rilke

I would rather sense you
as the earth senses you.
In my ripening
ripens
what you are.

No miracles, please.
Just let your laws
become clearer
from generation to generation.

—No Miracles, Please. Ranier Maria Rilke, From The Book of Hours II, 15

It’s not enough to bloom

5th Sunday of Easter (B)

Let’s talk about ripeness. And by ripeness I mean age, but I also mean fruitfulness. Surely we have heard people wax poetic about entering the autumn of one’s life, about earning one’s wrinkles, about aging with grace, about the privilege of reaching a ripe old age. You may even be one of them. When she was about 3 years old, my daughter used to say, “I can’t like that!” about many things that she did not want to accept. And while all of the above sentiments about aging are noble and true, I have to say, “I can’t like that!” no matter how I try. But as much as I would like to remain flower fresh all of my days I accept that it’s not enough to bloom. Aging is a lot like ripening. But before ripening can occur there must be fruit. And before fruit: a flower, and before the flower: a vine, a seed, and soil.

In John’s gospel, Jesus analogizes his relationship with the disciples to a vine and branches [John 15:1-8]  As branches, the disciples are nourished by the life-giving sap flowing through the vine. They grow and produce fruit. The fruit of the disciples is their action. They do the work of Christ. They cannot do this work on their own; they cannot leave the vine and survive. A branch that does not produce fruit indicates separation, disease, or the need for hard pruning.

Mystical metaphors such as the vine and the branches powerfully illustrate the mutual abiding between the Father and Jesus, and between Jesus and us. The image portrays Jesus as the conduit of divine direction between the vine grower (God) and the branches (us). Through these metaphors we grasp the reciprocal nature of Jesus’ consciousness and our responsibility to act upon it.

Earlier this month I spent a day tending to the flowering trees and shrubs in my garden. The long and harsh winter left many of them damaged with broken branches. I also noticed suckers and vertical shoots—non-producing growths that divert important nutrients from the healthy branches—emerging from the trunks. I know that carefully pruning away dead and useless growth encourages new growth and increases flowering. I am doing the same thing in my spiritual life: snipping away what does not bloom in order to open new spaces for regrowth.

Sour_cherriesBut it is not enough to bloom, is it? A tree heavy with blossoms may represent the peak of its beauty, but its showy fragrant flowers are designed to produce fruit. In the spiritual life the bloom is the time of conversion, that period of elation that comes with high inner consciousness and spiritual awareness. Neither the flowering tree or the spiritual high of conversion is sustainable; although they return, both must subside. The test of the bloom is the fruit that follows. If a bough of cherry blossoms is cut from the tree and brought inside one’s home, the space fills with fragrance but the blossoms will never produce cherries. If a person experiences a spiritual awakening while on a weekend retreat, yet Monday looks no different from the previous Friday, that person cannot produce fruit. But, let the cherry blossoms remain on the bough, let the petals fall, and let the fruit grow, ripen, and become food. Ripeness is the fulfillment of the bloom. The ability to nourish another is the revelation of its life’s work. This cannot happen unless it remains.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” [John 15:5]

We are the branches of the true vine. Conversion and the call to discipleship can, and do, occur again and again if one remains on the vine. But branches don’t simply rest and admire their own glossy leaves and flowers, and neither can we. We are expected to bear fruit. And, we are expected to ripen. It is hard to watch the petals fall. It can be uncomfortable. I can’t like it and I wonder if I ever will, but I do understand.

The poet, Ranier Maria Rilke, describes this necessary discomfort in the following poem:

In the Drawing Room

They are all around us, these lordly men
in courtiers’ attire and ruffled shirts
like an evening sky that gradually
loses its light to the constellations; and these ladies,
delicate, fragile, enlarged by their dresses,
one hand poised on the neck-ribbon of their lapdog.
They are close to each of us, next to the reader,
beside us as we gaze at the objets d’art
they left behind, yet still possess.

Tactful, they leave us undisturbed
to live life as we grasp it
and as they could never comprehend it.
They wanted to bloom
and to bloom is to be beautiful.
But we want to ripen,
and for that we open ourselves to darkness and travail.

—Rainer Maria Rilke

From A Year with Rilke: Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke, edited by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy.  1st edition. New York: HarperOne, 2009. p 106.

Today’s readings can be found here.

A poem for all days

book-heartToday is my birthday. Since I’d like to make it to 100, I now have nearly as many birthdays left to celebrate as have been given to me. This may seem trite, but looking back it is clear that life is a series of lives, chapters, so to speak. And for these and their marked up, underlined and dog-eared pages, I am grateful.

I’ve mentioned before my admiration, actually, my love for the words of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. He has been recognized as the most “lyrically intense” German poet, and while my knowledge of German poetry actually begins and ends with Rilke (perhaps I need to get out more), I have to agree. The editors of the book, A Year with Rilke (which everyone should have in their library, by the way), have chosen a perfect poem for today, and for all days:

Lyrical intensity, indeed.

Being Ephemeral

Does Time, as it passes, really destroy?
It may rip the fortress from its rock;
but can this heart, that belongs to God,
be torn from Him by circumstance?
Are we as fearfully fragile
as Fate would have us believe?
Can we ever be severed
from childhood’s deep promise?
Ah, the knowledge of impermanence
that haunts our days
is their very fragrance.
We in our striving think we should last forever,
but could we be used by the Divine
if we were not ephemeral?
—Sonnets to Orpheus II, 27

God Speaks, Easter People

Easter

I am, you anxious one.

Don’t you sense me, ready to break
into being at your touch?
My murmurings surround you like shadowy wings,
Can’t you see me standing before you
cloaked in silence?
Hasn’t my longing ripened in you
from the beginning
as fruit ripens on a branch?

I am the dream you are dreaming.
When you want to awaken, I am waiting.
I grow strong in the beauty you behold.
And with the silence of stars I enfold
your cities made by time.

—God Speaks. Ranier Maria Rilke, From The Book of Hours I, 19

Not only His longing, but ours. We are faced with one choice: to be an Easter people and step into the light, or to roll the stone back to its place and extinguish hope.

I will choose the light. Happy Easter, people!

Live the Questions.

Rilke-by-L.Pasternak1928

Portrait of Rilke by Leonid Pasternak – 1928

1st Sunday of Lent (B)

One of my favorite Christmas gifts last year came from my husband. He gave me and both of our daughters copies of A Year with Rilke. This book includes daily readings culled from the poet’s published works and letters. Inside the front cover of each book my husband suggested “we could all read the daily poem as a small way to stay connected throughout the year.” Our daughters are on their own now,  and one currently lives halfway across the country. Still, we regularly share with one another stories, articles, links, and podcasts that we think are interesting, so this gift has real meaning for each of us.

While I find each day’s reading thought provoking, I find Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” to be the most memorable, and in fact, many of these linger well into my day. The following excerpt from February 18, for example, is a gentle reminder to step back, resist the urge to create neat piles, allow chaos a dwelling space, and live with the unfolding mystery of life. This is a good practice in general, but has particular value during Lent.


Live the Questions

I want to ask you, as clearly as I can, to bear with patience all that is unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves, as if they were rooms yet to enter or books written in a foreign language. Don’t dig for answers that can’t be given you yet: you cannot live them now. For everything must be lived. Live the questions now, perhaps then, someday you will gradually, without noticing, live into the answer.

— Worpswede, July 16, 1903, Letters to a Young Poet

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) has been called “the greatest German poet of the twentieth century” (The Economist). I’m going to bypass writing a short biography of the poet and just point you here instead.

Barrows, Anita, and Joanna Macy. A Year with Rilke: Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke. 1st edition. New York: HarperOne, 2009. p 49.

You can find the book here, or at your favorite bookseller.