A meditation from Our Lady of the Mississippi, on one of the antiphons we sing at Vespers late in Advent:
O Root of Jesse, you stand as a sign for the peoples; before you kings shall keep silence and to you all nations shall have recourse. Come, save us, and do not delay.
One of my favorite Mary Oliver poems is one entitled “Can you Imagine?”
“Can You Imagine?”
“For example, what the trees do
not only in lightning storms
or the watery dark of a summer’s night
or under the white nets of winter
but now, and now, and now – whenever
we’re not looking. Surely you can’t imagine
they don’t dance, from the root up, wishing
to travel a little, not cramped so much as wanting
a better view, or more sun, or just as avidly
more shade – surely you can’t imagine they just
stand there loving every
minute of it, the birds or the emptiness, the dark rings
of the years slowly and without a sound
thickening, and nothing different unless the wind,
and then only in its own mood, comes
to visit, surely you can’t imagine
patience, and happiness, like that.”
I think of it sometimes when we have today’s antiphon, and think how hard it is to imagine that God chose to reveal his salvation in this way – in one man, rooted in one family in one nation. I mean can you imagine? Surely you can’t imagine he didn’t want to travel a little, not cramped so much as wanting others to have a better view of him, or to tell more people about his Father’s mercy, or to get to someplace where his message would be better received –where he could live a long life healing and teaching. Surely you can’t imagine that he wanted to pass from this earth leaving nothing behind but a small band of scared followers to spread the good news.
God rooted himself by his incarnation. The all-powerful Word willed to be confined to a place, to a family, to a body. God chose a particular human life, and a short one at that, and one many today would consider extremely confined (even sheltered)– no great career arc, no great romance, no children, never going beyond the bounds of his provincial little country. He didn’t experience “everything” as people often say he did – not being a woman, not growing old. Yet in that one limited life we see the gathering of the whole of human history and the whole of divinity. This is the mystery. And in sharing that life, all of human experience somehow is contained in Him.
Can we imagine that this was his joy? That although he could have picked any number of other ways to manifest himself in the world, he chose this way because it seemed the most beautiful to him? That he delighted in how one limited life could open onto eternity? Even harder, can we imagine that he delights in dwelling in the cramped spaces of our own being, for no matter how much room we make for him, it is not much space for the eternal Word. That he wants to be rooted in us, that his growth in us might be our own. That whatever our individual limitations are they don’t take away from his happiness, but are part of it. That our historical particularities are part of what makes us appealing soil for the Word. All we have to do is, being rooted in him, stand there loving every minute of it, the birds or the emptiness, the dark rings slowly thickening, and the occasional wind, even when the tree we are rooted to is the cross.