Part of my Mother’s Day gift from my daughter and husband this year was a book titled, For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics, a title that gives more than a hint of the book’s contents. The book contains poets of both the Western and Eastern Christian traditions, spanning the years from the Desert Fathers to contemporary voices. The poems are accompanied by short commentaries by Roger Housden, who put together the collection.
One of the first poems I opened to is a beautiful poem of longing written by St. Augustine, which I had not before been familiar with. It is titled, I Came to Love You Too Late. In it, Augustine comes to a realization that is importnat to all of us – that the God we seek has been inside of us all along. He writes
I came to love you too late, Oh Beauty,
so ancient and so new. Yes,
I came to love you too late. What did I know?
You were inside me, and I was
out of my body and mind, looking
I drove like an ugly madman against
the beautiful things and beings
You were in inside me, but I was not inside you….
You called to me and cried to me; you broke the bowl
of my deafness; you uncovered your beams, and threw them
at me; you rejected my blindness; you blew a fragrant wind
on me, and
I sucked in my breath and wanted you; I tasted you
and now I want you as I want food and water; you
touched me, and I have been burning ever since to
have your peace.
At a weekday Mass at UST the other day, the celebrant (our head of Campus Ministry, who always manages to say something in his homily that speaks to me) opened his homily by asking why it is that we are so fascinated by falling snow or by a star-filled sky. Or why is it that we are so delighted by magic. These tendencies reflect, he suggested, our inherent desire to reach beyond to the transcendent. We are, he said (using a phrase I instantly fell in love with), drawn to divinity.
His words resonated deeply with me. I remember at a very young age having an intuitive sense that there must be something more, something beyond this physical existence. A sense that, however good one’s life here on earth might be (I would lie in bed and play out in my mind the best I could imagine), that it would be somehow incomplete, not enough, unless there was something beyond this, something more than this. I was much too young to use words like transcendence or even divinity. But I had a felt sense of exactly what the priest was talking about.
St. Augustine expressed this thought in his oft-repeated line, “God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.” We don’t always have words for the feeling. But if we sit in the silence, we feel a yearning, a yearning that simply cannot be satisfied by anyone or anything other than God. We are, by our nature, drawn to divinity.
This Sunday is the beginning of Advent, the period during which we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ at Christmas. It is my favorite time in the liturgical calendar. As I did last year, this year I am giving a four week Advent Retreat in Daily Living at the University of St. Thomas School of Law (and also at St. Hubert). During a retreat in daily living, the participants commit to pray each day with material I provide them with and we meet weekly, during which meetings I give a brief talk that relates to the material they will be praying with that week. The participants are also given time during the weekly meeetings to share with each other in small groups their prayer experience from the prior week and we address any questions that have come up in the prayer.
Our first weekly meeting was this week. My talk focused on Advent as a time of longing, our longing for God. The invitation during this first week is for the participants to get in touch with their own longing for God, focusing on what they need for God. The rubric I invited them to use for doing that is the “O” Antiphones, the seven antiphons that are chanted or recited during the octave before Christmas. I talked about both the structural pattern and the content of the antiphons.
You can find the talk I gave here . (The podcast runs for 23:49). The prayer material for this first week of the retreat, which I reference during the talk, can be found here.