O, Emmanuel: A child is born…

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion 

For a child is born to us, a son is given us;
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.Isaiah 9:5

We’ve been waiting. We have been practicing patience. Our friend Mary is 40 weeks along and ready to give birth. It’s game-on mode. There’s been this business of the census and all the crazy travel in the past weeks –Joseph trying to secure accommodations. And here we are: Christmas.

In my prayer this past 24 hours, I am fixated on the details of birth. I keep imagining Mary going into labor. Her belly squeezing; the uterine muscles contracting, and someone rubbing her lower back. I imagine her pacing, perhaps walking the circumference of the room, or making laps outside her birthing space. Maybe it’s still daylight. It’s hot, the roads are dusty, that one little lamb flanks her heels as she paces. He knows.

I keep remembering my own labor and delivery– getting checked into St. Joseph’s Hospital in downtown St. Paul, being wheeled to my room; walking the length of the corridor in hopes of furthering the process of cervical dilation, and the ultimate next step…

Giving birth is an experience that every parent is intimately familiar with.

“..the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.”Luke 2:6-7

Can you enter into the details? I invite you to imagine what is between these two lines in Luke’s gospel: “the time came,” and “she gave birth.”

Mary’s water breaks. She is fully effaced and dilated. Jesus moves down into the birth canal. Mary pushes. And breathes. And pushes. Someone is holding her hand. That sheep is bleating in the back ground. And finally: he is born!

What Luke doesn’t fully describe are some of the richest aspects of this narrative; the imagined details are what hold HOPE for me. God doesn’t avoid the birth canal. He comes to us through this very real, human process by which we all arrive: labor, groaning, a physical expansion, birth.

***

Everywhere I turn these days, the gritty hope of birth is close at hand. Labor, groaning, expansion are bound up in the reality of the mundane, the tragic, the inexplicable, and the awesome. With our “O, Emmanuel” chant, hope accompanies all maneuvering, listening, and digesting of the day’s reality.

The Syrian refugees at the border. O Emmanuel. The Black Lives Matter marchers at the Mall and Airport. O Emmanuel. The presidential candidates sharing their political position on immigration. O Emmanuel. The police officers trying to keep us safe. O Emmanuel. The CEO trying to discern responsible environmental standards. O Emmanuel. The public school teacher seeking stillness in the face of the fall curriculum. O Emmanuel. The frustrated, hungry, angry boy open to the jihadist’s message. O Emmanuel. Earth herself turning on her axis with her changing atmosphere. O Emmanuel.

As we mark this hour of the Incarnation unfolding, I invite you to consider the gritty details of birth before you. Where is God entering in your life? What labor pains are present in your circumstances?  How is physical expansion palpable in your circles? What headlines invoke your song of chant and praise: “O, Emmanuel”?

O, Emmanuel: a child is born to us this day!

 

BRIGHT DARKNESS OF THE FUTURE

Sisters with Candles Catholic Spirit

Photo by Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit

by Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

As we planned our recent Visitation Companion Advent morning of prayer and reflection Jody, Linda and I spent some time sharing about our community Advent focus of Promise. A phrase from the 2008 – 2014 Vision Statement of our order somehow spoke to all of us about this time of the liturgical year: “As we move forward in the bright darkness of our present.”

This image, ‘Bright Darkness’ seems like an impossible thing to grasp — a paradox at best. In darkness we don’t see ANYTHING, we don’t see the future. However, internally we hope for the future. This kind of seeing of the future is dependent upon what we bring to the present, including our faith, our attitudes, our belief and our experiences.

“…the Bright Darkness of the future leads us to Christmas…the Incarnation of the One who has always been faithful to the Chosen People.”

Look at this time of year in terms of our ancestors: they saw the days were getting shorter and colder; the natural world was passing into a deep darkness; shorter days and less sunlight; dwindling crops; winter brought death after the ripeness of fall. If they were astute, our early ancestors may have noticed things in the natural world like squirrels hiding away extra nuts/ birds disappearing in flocks/ animals getting fatter and slower/ and with a thicker coat of fur and maybe some wise ones had inklings of the concept of hibernation. Perhaps some looked at this time of no fresh food and figured out how to preserve some foodstuffs —- just in case the end was not immanent and the shorter days might not end in death. People learned how to prepare for this time of year.   Externally they used more hides for warmth; they tended to hunker down indoors — around the fire with others. It became a communal time of waiting with the hope or expectation of longer days….more warmth…spring growth and new life.

As Christians we experience externals but have more hope — scientific knowledge and our faith tell us that the sun, s-u-n, will return but that the Son, s-o-n, will return and bring new life into our old world.

We can understand that phrase Bright Darkness of the Future. We need to look at where we have been, what has happened to humankind and assess the present moment.

The Old Testament stories of the Chosen People are full of lack of appreciation for creation, jealousy between siblings, lack of respect for others, crimes of passion, wars between people everywhere. God leading people to a PROMISED land and people grumbling on the way. People separating themselves from God or each other — going alone. Once in a while there would be a knowledgeable voice calling for PREPARATION for what is to come. The greatest of these voices according to scripture was a bright and shining light on a stand….calling out in the dark wilderness….a flicker of hope.

There IS more to come….another…whose sandals John was not even worthy to untie. The One who was the Son. The One who promised the new heavens and a new earth. One who promised to be faithful. One who promised eternal life. One who brought light into the darkness. It is this One who gives US hope, Wisdom and the ability to believe in the bright darkness of the future. This is the One who is the fulfillment of Promise. The One who is to be Wonder, Counselor, Prince of Peace. Almighty God. We can see where this is going…the Bright Darkness of the future leads us to Christmas…the Incarnation of the One who has always been faithful to the Chosen People.

God has Chosen all of us to step into the Light.

 

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Click here to see photos from the Advent Retreat. 

Advent: God the Father, Pacing the Waiting Room Floor

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

“I am praying to God, the Father, this Advent. I know he’s not on this list of saints we are invoking, but he’s central to our prayers. Who is God, the Father? He’s a new dad, pacing the waiting room floor, waiting for Jesus to be born. And he’s pacing the the floor for all of us in our ongoing birth-processes and new life journeys.”

S. Mary Margaret’s words were deeply moving to me as she spoke them to our circle of Vis Companions and Sisters convened last Saturday for our annual Advent Retreat.

Gathered around an alter of candles at the Girard House in north Minneapolis, contemplating the blessed saints and wise figures of this Advent season and offering prayers, we lit candles one at a time invoking the holy women and men’s names and the gifts they offered to our Advent contemplations.  I heard Dorothy Day‘s name spoken, St. Francis Xavier, St. Nicolas, Etty Hilesum, John of the Cross. And then: God, the Father. The image S. Mary Margaret offered of Our Father as an anxious, expectant father, concerned with Mary and his first born‘s well-being fired my own imagination.  It has stayed with me ever since.

***

A month ago, I turned 45 years old. In the weeks leading up to my birthday, I spent time inhabiting stories of my early life in Nebraska, going so far as to invite my parents to tell me again of the circumstances surrounding my arrival as their first born child.

My mom was enlivened by the assignment, recalling amusing, minute details of the day leading up to my birth. While baking a chocolate cake and gathering ingredients for brown sugar frosting, her water broke — though she wasn’t quite certain what was taking place in her body. She called her doctor, who reportedly said, “Well, call me when you are sure what’s going on.” At the age of 21, my first-time pregnant mother then dialed the neighbor, a nurse, and sought her counsel. In the end, she and my dad took off for Bryan Memorial hospital in Lincoln,  and 8 hours later, I emerged.

My father’s recall process came in spurts and fits, with his self-described exasperated efforts at aiding my mother in the breathing process during her labor, and his subsequent “failure” at keeping her calm. Apparently, my dad had my mother breathing so erratically that she hyperventilated, couldn’t relax, and so he was sent from the labor and delivery room by an attending hospital nurse.

The tale comes vividly today into my mind’s eye, as I imagine Mary and Joseph on the night of Christ’s birth. What did either of them know in the way of child birth? Was lamaze training part of the birthing preparation 2000 years ago? In my meditations, I see these holy humans amidst the air, earth, straw, elements; they are attentive, anxious, intent.

And then creeps back in God, the Father: pacing. He is no different that my human father: waiting, hopeful, trusting, walking to and fro in his father’s room.

Can you see this with me? Imagine Abba, Father, Daddy, for these moments, reduced to the uncertain expectation we all experience in the intense births of our life? How does this imagined scene fire your own identification with the incarnation tale? Can you fathom your own holy wonderings and human divinity as God paces alongside you, or breathes deeply and awaits news of your arrival?

Happy Advent Contemplations!