(Matthew Hanisian and I have made a one-time switch this week, since I have written a Thanksgiving Daily Cup since 2008 and couldn’t think of any new ways this year to express my immense gratitude for all of God’s gifts. We’ll go back to our usual days next week. -Sonya Sutton)
This painting by German artist Beate Heinen captures for me the dual nature of Advent, the liturgical season which begins on Sunday, during which we are called to joy and penance in equal measure. It is a season which reflects the darkness of the natural world and the candles of our inner light, beginnings and end times, the comfort of God’s word and the discomfort of the prophets’ words we’ll hear in the readings throughout the four Sundays of Advent. “Manger and the Cross” is the painting’s title, and both of those pivotal scenes reveal God’s love for us. I find beauty in its complete representation of the story we begin each Advent, and as I look at it now I am reminded of a poem I discovered as a text for a piece of music that I just never quite found the right time to program in a service. A poem by, of all people, Dorothy Parker.
Prayer for a New Mother
The things she knew, let her forget again-
The voices in the sky, the fear, the cold,
The gaping shepherds, and the queer old men
Piling their clumsy gifts of foreign gold.
Let her have laughter with her little one;
Teach her the endless, tuneless songs to sing,
Grant her the right to whisper to her son
The foolish names one dare not call a king.
Keep from her dreams the rumble of a crowd,
The smell of rough-cut wood, the trail of red,
The thick and chilly whiteness of the shroud
That wraps the strange new body of the dead.
Ah, let her go, kind Lord, where mothers go
And boast his pretty words and ways, and plan
The proud and happy years that they shall know
Together, when her son is grown a man.
May the coming Advent season be a time for comfort and discomfort, joy and penance, questions and answers, and a time of moving towards light and rebirth. Above all, as Parker hopes for Mary, may it be a time of learning how to let laughter and dreams triumph over our knowledge of life’s dark places.