Advent and Beauty

I spent Saturday in some Advent solitude, hopefully having prepared at least a tiny part of my self for Christmas. I brought with me two trusted and dear friends: Greg Boyle and Mary Oliver. Greg Boyle (the Jesuit priest who runs Homeboy Industries in L.A.) wrote a new book during the pandemic, and I had received it as an early Christmas gift. The title is The Whole Language: The Power of Extravagant Tenderness, and the first line reads: “Nothing is more consequential in our lives than the notion of God we hold.”


If that wasn’t enough fodder for the day, enough fodder to prepare my heart for Christ being born in my midst—here and now. But, there was also revisiting a Mary Oliver poem I love, Varanasi.

Early in the morning we crossed the ghat,
where fires were still smoldering,
and gazed, with our Western minds, into the Ganges.
A woman was standing in the river up to her waist;
she was lifting handfuls of water and spilling it
over her body, slowly and many times,
as if until there came some moment
of inner satisfaction between her own life and the river’s.
Then she dipped a vessel she had brought with her
and carried it filled with water back across the ghat,
no doubt to refresh some shrine near where she lives,
for this is the holy city of Shiva, maker
of the world, and this is his river.
I can’t say much more, except that it all happened
in silence and peaceful simplicity, and something that felt
like the bliss of a certainty and a life lived
in accordance with that certainty.
I must remember this, I thought, as we fly back
to America.
Pray God I remember this.

I first encountered this poem on a long retreat as I discerned making a perpetual profession to the community last year. Someone with whom I was having conversations recommended the poem to me because of the phrase “the bliss of a certainty.” She encouraged me to move from the fear of commitment (my natural inclination) to the beauty of commitment.

Old Monk gave the Advent reflections on Saturday evening at our vigil prayer. To turn the previous phrase, she spoke of making a commitment to beauty. That commitment has a healing and saving power in a world so full of darkness—and not always the Advent kind.

So my question to self in my solitude was this…

What are the people, places, things, words that most easily connect me to Love and Beauty?

What is your answer?

May they continue to expand our hearts until nothing is left out.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Now my orchid has four blooms…two weeks ahead of Advent!