I offer a reading and a discussion of the O Antiphons as reimagined in “For You, O Lord, My Soul in Stillness Waits?” #89 of our Hymn Book
(This is from a beautiful book by Jan Richardson called Through the Advent Door)
With his description of the end of days, Jesus employs a complex and sobering visual lexicon that’s rich with ancient layers of symbolism and meaning. In doing so, he offers [us] a vision that disrupts [our] everyday world. Jesus calls upon [us] to attend to the signs around [us], to look beneath the surface of [our] patterns of relationships and rhythms of life. He urges [us] to discern for [our]selves the activity of God.
We should not wonder that immediately following Jesus’ discourse, Mark tells of the plot to kill him.
Here at the outset of Advent, I have been wishing for an easier start to the season, for words that would welcome us into these weeks with a more graceful sense of hospitality. This passage doesn’t so much beckon us across the threshold as it throws open a door, tosses a cup of cold water in our face to wake us, and shoves us through.
But perhaps, instead of a cozy welcome into the season, this is precisely what we need as we move into Advent: a heaping serving of mystery. With its depiction of sun and moon going dark and stars falling from heaven, this passage challenges us to give up our usual sources of illumination, to let go of our habitual ways of knowing, to question our typical ways of seeing, so that we may receive the God who comes to us in the dark.
Mystery is rarely comfortable. We want to understand what we are doing here, to see more clearly how God is at work, to know how the future will unfold. This Gospel passage confounds us, reminds us that God works in the darkness as well as in the daylight. We see this in the book of Isaiah, where God says through the prophet, I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. (45: 3)
In her book The Vigil: Keeping Watch in the Season of Christ’s Coming—a beautiful reflection on Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany—Wendy M. Wright relates words given to her by a novice master of a Trappist monastery, who said, “To be a Christian does not mean knowing all the answers; to be a Christian means being willing to live in the part of the self where the question is born.” 1 Advent brings this home in a fashion that may seem painfully direct but can also be tremendously freeing: it tells us that we cannot see everything, cannot know everything, cannot predict everything. It tells us that, ultimately, we live in mystery.
The O Antiphons are ancient ways of talking about the longing that we have as humans. I invite you to meditate on the 4 reworking of the 7 O Antiphons (first four stanzas) and think about how we as humans have longed for the same comforts from God throughout millennia.
Hymn # 89
“For You, O Lord, My Soul in Stillness Waits?”
Refrain: For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits;
truly my hope is in you.
1. O Lord of Light, our only hope of glory,
your radiance shines in all who look to you;
come, light the hearts of all in dark and shadow. (Refrain)
2. Spring of Joy, rain down upon our spirits;
our thirsty hearts are yearning for your word;
come, make us whole, be comfort to our hearts. (Refrain
3. O Root of Life, implant your seed within us,
and in your advent, draw us all to you,
our hope reborn in dying and in rising. (Refrain)
4. O Key of Knowledge, guide us in our pilgrimage;
we ever seek, yet unfulfilled remain;
open to us the pathway of your peace. (Refrain)
5. Come, let us bow before the God who made us;
let every heart be opened to the Lord,
for we are all the people of God’s hand. (Refrain)
6. Here we shall meet the Maker of the heavens,
Creator of the mountains and the seas,
Lord of the stars, and present to us now. (Refrain)