Shape and Substance

meditations on faith and church

Month: December, 2022

Matins, Christmas Morning*

O magnum mysterium …
		-Fourth Responsory for Matins on Christmas Day

Mystery needs no consecration.
It sighs in the wind, 
crackles in the hoarfrost,
burrows earthworm tunnels in the loam,
eddies in the water where trout hold, unheard, unseen—
deep writ into the warp and weft of things.
…et admirabile sacramentum… 

I wake before the house,
stand on the back porch in the wintry air 
of the not-yet-dawn of day. 
Cold flash-freezes sleep within my brain. 
The dog is attending to his urges,
aware, I imagine, that the brittle grass he sniffs
and the wisps exhalant from his nose
are pregnant with Mystery.
It waits to be born. 
Or no—
it is already here, has always been here,
before we began these daily offices
of field and forage. 
He knows.
He knows because he is Mystery. 
He clothes Mystery in the soft swaddling of his fur. 
…ut animalia viderunt…

Borrowed Question: Why is this night different from all others?
Answer 1: It is the same as every other.
Answer 2: There has never been another like it. 
Answer 3: It is the womb of a new creation.

Dawn breaks, a birthing mother.
Fluid light soaks the horizon.
Mystery is being born. Again. 
Each morning is birth, 
each evening is death,
…dominum natum iacentem in praesepio…

Sanguine and pure,
Mystery pulses in the veins of creation, 
coursing with the nourishment of life—
or spills, pouring out onto the land,
a death that does not die
but seeps between the living rocks 
into light-starved caverns of creation,
an aquifer recharged by wonder,
semen come at last 
to the womb’s dark heart.
It gestates there, in night-bound silence, waiting...
O beata virgo, cuius viscera meruerunt portare dominum Iesum Christum…

The dog has finished his oblations.
I cinch my robe against the cold
and reach behind me for the doorknob. 
Inside is warmth, and food, and she, asleep.
the stuff of today, each day.

Why is this day different from all other days?
It is no different.
There will never be another like it.
Mystery is born this day. Again.

*slightly edited from the version published 12/25/22


We stand on evening’s verge
Where laps the night at daylight’s shore 
And wonder at time’s dwindling store
Of light, while light and darkness merge,
And life, against death’s whelming surge.

The heart would take to flight
And soar above the reach of fear,
The anguished cry, the baleful tear,
The dark’ning dread of deep’ning night—
O lift our hearts; O raise our sight!

To evening’s edge we bear
Both day and night, still torn in twain.
But distant whispers Love’s refrain:
Be not afraid: my peace I share;
Let not your heart be troubled there.

Then watch ‘til night is done,
And o’er the soul’s horizon, see
That Day that Love shall cause to be,
That Dawn of time’s eternal sun,
That Light where light and dark are one.