For a while now, I’ve reserved Mondays for poetry. If nothing else, poetry slows us down, and I usually need that on Mondays.
Here is a poem for the first Monday of Advent.
No doubt you can find many English-language versions of Rilke’s poem “Magnificat.” I’m afraid I couldn’t say which is best, whatever “best” means when we are speaking of poetry in translation. Most accurate? Most beautiful? As much as possible of both?
I chose this translation because of the words which begin the final stanza: “That he found me!”
Despite the trouble that sent Mary to seek refuge in the home of her cousin, she praises God because he saw her. He noticed her. He found her.
He is God-who-sees-us.
He is God-who-knows-us.
We are all of us lost, we are all of us found. Some of us don’t yet know that we’ve been found. Some of us just have a hard time remembering.
Rilke’s version of Mary’s song reminds me that even in the midst of trouble, even when I feel most lost, I have been noticed. I have been found.
Already gravid, she ascended, nearly
bereft of any solace, faith, or hope.
The pregnant matron, proudly and austerely
knowing, met her on the slope,
aware of all that Mary need not share.
Since she was resting on her suddenly,
the heavy frau embraced with patient care,
and waited till the younger spoke: “You see,
I feel as if I were to live forever.
God fills the rich with vanities, dear friend,
almost not even looking at their clever
glitter; choosing maidens, though, He’s never
rash, but fills them with life without end.
That he found me! Consider, that on my
account His fiats moved the stars. Oh, raise
Him up, my soul. Exalt the Lord on high,
for all that you can praise.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke, translated from the German by Len Krisak
One year ago, I was waiting, holding on to these words from Psalm 81: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth, and I will fill it.”
The date inked in beside those words in my Bible is August 23, 2011. By the time Advent began, I’d spent three months wringing out every drop of hope they had to give.
I did not know when (or even if) we would be moving on from Florida, but I longed to leave the desert behind. I was not yet pregnant, but I had a daughter who prayed every night for a sister. I had only imprecise dreams of what the future might hold, but I kept my mouth open and imagined a cup running over.
I wrote every day that Advent, and I shared it all with you here.
Before I’d even packed away the Christmas tree, I was pregnant, and the events which would bring us to Pennsylvania had been set in motion. I celebrated the new year with anticipation, though I still knew nothing of a baby girl or a red brick farmhouse.
Such a year it has been. Such a year.
And now – now, it is a season for singing. And, so, like last year, I will have something for you here each day of Advent.
We will wait and sing, together.
I am singing my Advent anthem to you, God: How all year
I’ve felt your thrusts, every sound and sight stabbing
like a little blade – the creak of gulls, the racket
as waves jostle pebbles, the road after rain, shining
like a river, the scrub of wind on the cheek, a flute
trilling – clean as a knife, the immeasurable chants of green,
of sky: messages, announcements. But of what? Who?
Then last Tuesday, a peacock feather (surprise!)
spoke from the grass; Flannery calls hers “a genuine
word of the Lord.” And I – as startled as Mary, nearly,
at your arrival in her chamber (the invisible
suddenly seen, urgent, iridescent, having put on light
for her regard) – I brim over like her, quickening. I can’t
stop singing, thoroughly pregnant with Word!
– Luci Shaw
How easily we share our triumphs and proudest moments. Facebook updates. Twitter exclamations. Instagram slices of time.
I post the funny things my boys say. I upload sweet photos of new sisters.
How easily we share our dreams and daily pleasures. Amazon wishlists. Spotify playlists. Pretty pinterest boards.
These are not the deeply rooted dreams, the ones planted in us from our very beginning. These are the daydreams that lie on the surface of our lives.
Here are a few of mine: chicken coops and vintage cookbooks, Irish poetry and organic gardening.
This is what I do not share: weakness. Also, failure.
There is no social media application for shame. Which is, itself, a shame.
Hiding our weakness, we hide the resurrection power within us. Because we know: “The body that is sown in weakness … is raised in power” (I Corinthians 15:43). Covering up our shame, we deny the One who told us “my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
I have PCOS, and the same broken hormones that always made it hard to get pregnant also make it impossible to feed my baby. And so the end looks like strange herbs and hours at the breast pump for me, bottles of formula for her.
Bottles to be grateful for, bottles to break your heart.
My baby girl is two weeks old, and I have come to the end of myself. It’s a very short road; the journey didn’t take very long.
But what comes after me? (Or, more precisely, Who?)
Do I believe the kingdom logic that my end is really the beginning? His beginning?
Looking ahead, the view is murky. I have no idea what’s there. I maintain my sanity by focusing on 12-hour blocks of time. The lactation consultant suggested 24. Even that felt like too much.
But, looking back … the view is very different.
Because, I have seen amazing things (Luke 5:26).
(this post prompted by Summer’s beautiful confession)
She was born on September 12 at 4:46 in the morning – two weeks before we expected her but not a moment too soon.
Here are the things I will never forget:
In a new home with no family or friends nearby, we were not alone. Not unprovided for. At eleven p.m. I admitted I might be in labor. The kids were all asleep (the three-year-old only just), and we called the one person we knew best in this new place: our realtor.
I wasn’t sure that this was really “it,” but I didn’t want to bother her at 3 a.m., so we called. She came. We worried some – what if the three-year-old woke up, and we were gone? What if he found a stranger in our room?
But what point is there in worry?
Jonathan said he had been reading the Bible that evening. These words from Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”
We knew then that he was with us. All night, he would be with us. And so we let go of worry and walked.
Too soon for the hospital, I thought, so we walked, up and down the drive, the milkyway just visible between the branches of so many old, old maple trees. We walked, I decided that yes, maybe this was real. Maybe it wasn’t too soon, and, at one a.m., we left for the hospital.
I felt foolish as we checked in. It’s still early! I’m just fine! And worry sometimes crept back in: will she be able to feed the kids breakfast? We have notes posted everywhere about our son’s allergies, but it’s complicated. What if? And will she be able to get them on the bus? And the three-year-old, will he panic? Cry for Dad to be there, making pancakes, as always?
But, we let it go again, and things moved fast and faster. The nurse said, “Just rest. Let me know if you need me.” Barely ten minutes later rest sounded ridiculous, and I yelled, “She’s coming!”
And she came. And she was beautiful. And we were stunned.
Jonathan left us an hour later, left us tucked into our room together, and he was home before anyone in the house woke up. Yes, he was there, making breakfast, when everyone came in, rubbing their eyes, to hear that they had a sister. That her name was Elsa Spring.
“Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come.”
Song of Songs 2:10-12
Most evenings, after dinner, you’ll find us piling into the car. We drive because it’s so beautiful here, we drive to put the three-year-old to sleep, we drive because we’re worn out and we want to fill the time between feeding and bathing in the easiest way.
I’ve never been very adept at keeping my mind tucked inside my body. It’s always floating off, connecting imagined dots somewhere up in the clouds, which makes me (I’m well aware) a real danger on the road. With Jonathan behind the wheel, I’m free to tell stories in my head, so I do. So many stories.
They’re meant for you; I’m sure of it. Someday (soon, I hope) I’ll share them. But for now … well, I’ve entered a kind of nine-months-pregnant tunnel.
It’s a strange, foggy place. Most of the things I normally value in life seem lost in the general grayness. Like writing for this blog or returning phone calls. Other seemingly unimportant things loom inexplicably large. Like painting my bedroom furniture.
Yes, the baby’s room is a mess of odds and ends, and the bassinet I recently ordered through the mail is still sitting in its unopened box exactly where the UPS man left it last week. But I can’t tell you how vitally, vitally important it has been to attack my bed with white paint.
Please, baby girl, just hold on till the paint dries.
I’m not sure if I’ll be in this space much before she arrives. I do promise I’ll be back before long.
There is so much here (in this new place and season) worth noticing, and I don’t think these things are meant only for me. Things like a full moon rising over a quilt-square patch of corn. Things like driving the same country road night after night until the night when one wrong (right?) turn takes you through a field of sunflowers.
Those things must mean something. They must be a part of some very good story.
I’ll be sure to let you know what I discover. Once the fog recedes.
Last Saturday, my birthday, I woke to read these words: “At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home” (Zephaniah 3:20).
With the kids out of school for the summer, I haven’t had much time to write for this blog. But that isn’t the only reason I’ve been quiet. Instead of spending time each day reading and writing, I’ve spent hours cleaning out closets, filling bags of out-grown clothes and toys for the thrift store, and packing up bins of game pieces and legos and building blocks to store in the garage. The idea, I think, is to make our house look as if actual children do not live here. This is a home for fantasy, catalog children (they make their beds, they keep one toy decoratively on the shelf), and this house … it can be yours!
Our house is for sale. My husband has a start date for a new position with his company. Next week, I will try to wrest six-months of medical records from my doctor and hope, as I enter the third trimester of this pregnancy, that I’ll soon find someone to accept them. Someone who will say, “Oh, yes, we’ve only just met, but I will deliver your baby in a few weeks.” (What if Mary had had to find room for a mountain of medical records on the back of that donkey?)
We don’t know exactly where we’ll end up. Next week, my husband and I fly to Philadelphia. From there, we’ll roam the countryside searching for the home God has promised us.
I’ve often told friends that living in Florida has felt like a two-year vacation. This is both a good thing and a hard thing. Vacation is a restful, enjoyable place to be. The scenery is beautiful, the pace is slow. The sun always shines, and palm fronds rustle in the breeze.
However, even the best vacations can last too long. Then, you find yourself longing for home. Resenting the emptiness of days devoted only to rest. You dream of that place where your roots are planted deep.
For two years, I have cried out, “Please, I want to go home.” I didn’t mean Chicago. I didn’t mean Texas, where I grew up, or any other place that I could point to on a map. Spurred on by God’s voice, his whispered promises, I knew there was a home for me.
“See, I will bring them … and gather them … Among them will be the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labor … I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble” (Jeremiah 31: 8-10).
We are headed home.