Snow on Snow

Dante_smSnow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

You probably know these lines, either from Christina Rossetti’s poem of 1871 or, more likely, Holst’s setting of them as a carol.

I know them. I used one of them as title of a book, “bleak” altered to “deep” by the publisher, who thought the former too gloomy.

Which it might indeed be. Rossetti was melancholic, iced-up with unversed emotion; with passions gone gelid which, reticent, gob-stopped, couldn’t quite state their names. [Read more…]

Come, Lord Jesus

antiphonsI’ve always loved Advent’s “O” Antiphons. These are the prayers traditionally voiced during the final seven days of Advent, prior to singing the Magnificat at Evening Prayer. Each of these antiphons begins with “O” and is addressed to Christ under one of his names mentioned in the Bible.

They are brief, one-sentence prayers of longing for Christ’s coming—both in the Incarnation and the Second Coming. Each begins with an address to Christ: O Wisdom… O Lord of ancient Israel… O Root of Jesse… O Key of David… O Dayspring… O King of the nations… And finally, on December 23, O Emmanuel. Each ends with the supplication “Come…save us!

This year I’ll add a new dimension to my praying of the O Antiphons. Poet Jill Peláez Baumgaertner has composed a poem for each of these Antiphons (found in her latest volume, What Cannot Be Fixed). I’ll be meditating on her poetic reflections on each Antiphon. In case you’d like to share in this peak Advent experience, I’ll offer below each Antiphon as traditionally phrased, followed by a bit of Baumgaertner’s reflection. (All the ellipses in the poems are mine.)

O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High, pervading and permeating all creation, mightily ordering all things: come and teach us the way of prudence.

Prudence is not a word
we love…

And we inhabit a planet
of uncertainty.
Who is the friend
and where the enemy…?

Now Wisdom speaks,
parsing, separating,
reordering, steering us
from quicksand’s brink,
the enfleshed Word
steady on firm terrain.…

We await him.
Come, Lord Jesus.


O Lord of ancient Israel, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the Law on Sinai: come with an outstretched arm and redeem us.

The Law sculpts our sin
in bas relief…

We cannot rest easy
watching Moses…
removing his shoes
on hallowed ground.

Our shoes remain.
We are rooted here…

We crave release,
the spring of warmed
muscles, Adonai’s
arm outstretched…

We await him.
Come, Lord Jesus.


O Root of Jesse, standing as an ensign before the peoples, before whom all kings are mute, to whom the nations will do homage: come quickly to deliver us.

Here in the dust
we are astonished
by the root’s tenacity,
the only life in a ruined
and dead land.
It stirs underground…
the bloom finally
loosening and opening…

We await him.
Come, Lord Jesus.


O Key of David and scepter of the house of Israel, you open and no one can close, you close and no one can open: come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness and the shadow of death.

Shackled in the obscurity
of our prison, locked in,
solipsistic, we see only
our own sin…

But the promise of release
has been there all along…
There in our baptism
is our freedom.
All we have ever needed
to do is remember it.

We await him.
Come, Lord Jesus.


O Dayspring, splendor of light everlasting: come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

In December already at four o’clock
in the afternoon, shadows overtake us…
then the darkness…
deepens beyond all imagining,
this darkness of spirit which admits
no glimmer of ray…

and now, finally, is the time for new light—

We await him.
Come, Lord Jesus.


O King of the nations, the ruler they long for, the cornerstone uniting all people: come and save us all, whom you formed out of clay.

The Word that shaped creation
spun the dust, gathered the seas,
carved the clay, sparked the life.

This Word more than the un-Worded
of careless speech. This Word…
the king
who shatters the darkness,
who gives sight, who becomes the bright
fleshprint of incarnation.

This is the remote become immediate…
the birth-marked
Word that created our senses
and opened them. He breathes
on us and we live.

We await him.
Come, Lord Jesus.


O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the anointed of the nations and their Savior: come and save us, O Lord our God.

Emmanuel, God with us,
knows what our flesh knows:

the itchiness of wool against skin,
the lingering taste of wine,
the glossiness of leaves after rain,
the press of earth clods underfoot,
the grit of sawdust on hands.

This is the mystery:
King and carpenter’s son…
With outstretched arms
he redeems us, the purple
of royalty and passion
the world’s darkness.

We await him.
Come, Lord Jesus.


Peggy Rosenthal is director of Poetry Retreats and writes widely on poetry as a spiritual resource. Her books include Praying through Poetry: Hope for Violent Times (Franciscan Media), and The Poets’ Jesus (Oxford). See Amazon for a full list. She also teaches an online course, “Poetry as a Spiritual Practice,” through Image’s Glen Online program.

Poetry Friday: “Christmas Morning in a Hotel Room” by Carrie Fountain

Each Friday at Good Letters we feature a poem from the pages of Image, selected and introduced by one of our writers or readers.

FreewayIs there any place more melancholy to spend Christmas morning than a hotel room? A place designed to be no place at all? Yet it’s strangely fitting: the mystery of the Incarnation is that it’s precisely nowhere—on the margin of the world—that a God bursts in. In this poem, a narrator stands at a hotel window on Christmas morning, an figure in isolation, and wills herself to believe that “something important / began or ended precisely” in this no-place, some parking lot by some highway. And it’s her simple belief that even the empty places of the world are filled with meaning—“no doubt,” she thinks—that becomes the miracle of this scene, her belief transforming the commonplace world into one where hope rises in billows, where God arrives like a stranger in an idling car, waiting right outside.

—Tyler McCabe

Christmas Morning in a Hotel Room by Carrie Fountain

Out the window, the parking lot
and beyond that, the highway.

No doubt something important
began or ended precisely there, or

there, in that spot where the ice-white
rental car is idling neatly, clouds [Read more…]

How to Win the War on Christmas

Santa editAfter thirteen years of parenting, my husband and I still know virtually nothing about raising children. But one thing we’ve always agreed on, since even before the first one was conceived, is not including Santa in our Christmas celebrations.

Now don’t get me wrong. We’re not one of those families. I don’t homeschool in a jumpsuit and make my kids play with Old Testament action figures. In fact, for evangelicals, we’re pretty theologically and culturally liberal. And we don’t hate holidays. Our kids dress up for Halloween and make each other Valentines. Christmas sees the usual tree, presents, and lights. We just don’t invite the guy in the red suit down our chimney (or through the heating vent or DSL box, I guess, since we don’t have a fireplace).

I mentioned those people, didn’t I? Those. The ones I don’t want you to associate with me because I want you to keep on reading. And to like me. Even if I didn’t mention, um, them, I would have worried about it, worried you would have placed me in that category of lesser, unenlightened, believers.

Or perhaps you felt judged by my comments about Santa, the creepily omnipresent, omniscient stand-in for God who judges us on our works. And visits only the families with discretionary income. [Read more…]

Waiting for the Blessing

By Lisa Ampleman

Newborn First ChristmasOn Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, my church blesses expectant families. Rejoice, rejoice, we sing, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. A whole people waiting for a savior, families who are waiting for the birth of their baby. The rite is called the Blessing of a Child in the Womb, a small curled-up body in warmth and darkness.

For many years, though, the message to wait, to rejoice meant something very different to me: the lack of a child in the womb. Disappointment month after month.

I began to doubt that my husband and I would ever hold a baby in swaddling blankets. I clutched his hand more tightly as couples walked up the center aisle to be blessed in front of the congregation. Our hands formed the shape of the nursery rhyme: Here is the church; Here is the steeple. I pursed my lips and willed my stinging eyes to stay dry. Or, knowing it was coming, I asked my husband if we could attend another Mass, without the blessing.

Others in those pews, huddled in their winter coats under stark blue banners, have their own yearnings: for employment, for a spouse, for an end to pain or illness. Not all will see fulfillment by Christmas when the church fills with pines and poinsettias.

One of my favorite Psalms says, “I believe that I shall see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living,” not in heaven, but here on earth. Some difficult days, I could hold that phrase like a warm heating stone in my cold torso. Many times, it felt like self-deception to say such things. [Read more…]