By Sister alies therese
“The hour is coming when those who kill you will insist they are worshipping God.” (cf Jn 16:2). Whoever that is or whoever it was in Jesus’ time there is a presumption that hostility from an unbelieving world will be a permanent facet of Christian life. There is the hostility of the external world and frequently great hostility in our inner world. Here it is we learn the wisdom of humility and that humility is necessary for the prayer of our hearts. Thomas Merton quips at one point how humility fares: “Recently in the breviary we had a saint who, at the point of death, removed his pontifical vestments and got out of bed. He died on the floor, which is only right: but one hardly has time to be edified by it – one is still musing over the fact that he had pontifical vestments on in bed.”
I was particularly engrossed in Merton’s Hagia Sofia, a prose-poem about Wisdom (with a focus on humility) (Proverbs 8). He sets the poem in a context of canonical hours. Here is his first stanza at “Dawn. The Hour of Lauds”:
“There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness. This mysterious Unity and Integrity is Wisdom, the Mother of all, Natura naturans. There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity, a silence that is a fount of action and joy. It rises up in wordless gentleness and flows out to me from the unseen roots of all created being, welcoming me tenderly, saluting me with indescribable humility… the gift of my Creator’s thought and Art within me, speaking as Hagia Sophia, speaking as my sister, Wisdom.”
Merton explores humility as the day progresses.
At the Hour of High Morning he engages us again:
“…That which is poorest and humblest, that which is most hidden in all things is nevertheless most obvious in them… naked and without care. Sophia, the feminine child, playing in the world, obvious and unseen, playing at all times before the Creator. Her delights are to be with the children of [men]. She is their sister. The core of life that exists in all things is tenderness, mercy, virginity, the Light, the Life considered as passive…Sophia is Gift, is Spirit. She is God-Given and God as Gift. God as all reduced to Nothing: inexhaustible nothingness…Humility as the source of unfailing light.”
And finally from Hour at Sunset we are reminded:
“…through her (Mary’s) wise answer, through her obedient understanding, through the sweet yielding consent of Sophia, God enters without publicity into the human city…She crowns Him not with what is glorious, but with what is greater than glory: weakness, nothingness, poverty. She sends the infinitely Rich and Powerful One forth as poor and helpless, in His mission of inexpressible mercy, to die for us on a Cross.
The shadows fall. The stars appear. The birds begin to sleep. Night embraces the silent half of the earth.
A vagrant, a destitute wanderer with dusty feet, finds his way down a new road. A homeless God, lost in the night, without papers, without identification, without even a number, a frail expendable exile lies down in desolation under the sweet stars of the world and entrusts Himself to sleep.”
Wisdom we know is of divine origin, agreeing with God at the creation of the universe, providing beauty and variety. Now we see her as fully revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ incarnate. It is with humility that we might enter into this powerful relationship when we pray and seek after the gifts and challenges.
That our God allows both profound artistic creativity and such humiliating and painful action, reminds me that my life too is a deep mixture. Not just the ‘good or bad” – rather the ‘whole and the broken; the sin-centered selfishness and the following God’s will. As these days of Easter pass, and the intensity of our Liturgy drives us ever deeper into the humility of God, may we be enriched by all that surrounds us, all that challenges us to serve others, and all that enables us to get out of our beds and die on the floor, after removing our pontifical vestments, choosing Wisdom rather than folly.
We come to the end of a Lenten struggle, perhaps to be beset again, having learned only one prayer, that of the publican: ‘Lord, Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner.’
Now I, too, can go forward, learning to become a delight, filled only with Wisdom and her playful and hopeful energy emanating from the Body of Christ, raised from the dead.
(Sister alies therese is a vowed Catholic solitary who lives an eremitical life. Her days are formed around prayer, art and writing. She is author of six books of spiritual fiction and is a weekly columnist. She lives and writes in Mississippi.)