in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Monday, 16 December 2013

O Wisdom! You Hold All Things Together in a Strong Yet Gentle Fashion...

Finally I can put the Christmas tree up today... I always wait to the last moment in an attempt to keep some of the mystery, beauty and magic of Advent in the onward rush of Christmas commercialism. One half of me would like to condemn the commercialism, but the other half sees that people are attracted to something... they don’t seem to know what... that speaks of the transcendent and the mystery at the heart of human life.

Why 17th December?

It is the beginning of what are called the ‘Great O Antiphons’ that will be sung at Evening Prayer in the Catholic tradition from now until Christmas Eve. They are sung at the moment in the prayer when the great song of Mary, the Magnificat, occurs and seems to link the mystery of the Incarnation with that of Mary as the vessel of salvation. Today’s, in Latin, reads:

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,

attingens a fine usque ad finem,

fortiter suaviter disponens que omnia:

veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.


And translates as:


O Wisdom, you come forth from the mouth of the Most High.

You fill the universe and hold all things together in a strong yet gentle fashion.

O come to teach us the way of truth.


And the following six form a mini-sermon on the nature of the Incarnation and its significance:

18th December

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,

who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush

and gave him the law on Sinai:

O come and save us with your mighty power.


19th December

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the nations;

Kings fall silent before you whom the peoples acclaim,

O come and deliver us and do not delay.


20th December

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;

What you open, no one else can close again;

What you close no one can open.

O come and lead the captives from prison,

Free those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.


21st December

O Rising Sun,

You are the splendour of eternal light and the sun of righteousness:

O come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.


22nd December

O King whom all the nations desire,

You are the cornerstone making all one:

O come and save the human race,

which you fashioned from clay.


23rd December

O Emmanuel, who is our king and our lawgiver,

the hope of the nations and their Saviour:

O come and save us, O Lord our God.


Traditionally the seven names given to Christ: Wisdom (Sapientia), Ruler of the House of Israel (Adonai), Root of Jesse (Radix), Key of David (Clavis), Rising Sun (Oriens), King (Rex) and Emmanuel form the letters SARCORE which when reversed becomes ‘ero cras’ – ‘tomorrow I will be’ – the beginning of Christmas on Christmas Eve.

I shall be taking each one as the basis for my meditation over the next 7 days and find that they contain such a wealth of rich images to counteract the most hardcore commercialism we find ourselves in. In this respect I am reminded of the wonderful poem by the American beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a friend of Thomas Merton’s, which for me encapsulates this strange last week before Christmas when we exist between the two worlds of commercial mayhem and the transcendent reality of Christ's presence – but more on that later when I blog after Christmas. For now here is Ferlinghetti’s poem…


Happy Advent!





Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck crèches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
in a Volkswagen sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
with German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody’s imagined Christ child

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carolers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary’s womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody’s anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest
of Second Comings






  1. Thankyou Peter for the implicit invitation or prompt to use these traditional antiphons as personal advent meditations. I recently attended a beautifully sung service based on them where I came away disappointed and sensing a disconnection in me from experiential meaning and knowing. Or perhaps it was a performance where there was no time to allow a slow process of opening to inner responses. For the slow meditative listening for responses that constantly rise and unfold as I hold these namings in mind and heart.

    I am making some time and appreciating how each meditation with an antiphon has the potential of an inner rite of knowing that opens up something new each time - each is an 'advent' all of itself.
    Advent blessings in the Name.
    Viv Stacey

    1. Thanks Viv, I have been using them like this for some years and find they offer respite in the pre-Christmas rush... by the way... the old Sarum use (still used at Salisbury Cathedral for example) has an extra one for Maria. Happy Advent to you too!