Oh come, Oh come! Some Advent Reflections

Tomorrow is Advent Sunday! The first Sunday in the Church’s year. The beginning of a holy season in which we connect again with our inconsolable longing, as CS Lewis called it, our yearning for the One who is to come and is also, mysteriously, the One who has come already, come as child, come as fellow-sufferer, come as Saviour, and yet whose coming, already achieved, we hold at bay from ourselves, so that we have to learn afresh each year, even each day, how to let him come to us again.

In the first centuries the Church had a beautiful custom of prayng seven great prayers calling afresh on Christ to come, calling him by the mysterious titles he has in Isaiah, calling to him; O Wisdom. O Root! O Key  O Light! come to us!

I have responded to these seven “Great O” Antiphons, as they are called, with seven sonnets, revoicing them for our own age now, but preserving the heart of each, which is a prayer for Christ’s Advent for his coming, now in us, and at the end of time, in and for all. These Sonnets form the opening sequence of my latger cycle of sonnets for the church year which some of you have been following on these pages.

Over the course of this Advent season I shall post these sonnets onto my blog, so here is the first one; O Sapienita, (O Wisdom). I shall also give you the original o antiphon, in both Latin and English. You should also be able to hear the antiphons sung and hear me read the sonnet if you click on the play button just before the poem, or else click on the title of the sonnet to be taken to my audio page. Also check out the wonderful resources on the Advent Antiphons and aother mediaeval Wisdom on Julian holloway’s beautiful website  The Great O Antiphons

O Sapientia

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the
Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.



O Sapientia

I cannot think unless I have been thought,

Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.

I cannot teach except as I am taught,

Or break the bread except as I am broken.

O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,

O Light within the light by which I see,

O Word beneath the words with which I speak,

O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,

O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,

O Memory of time, reminding me,

My Ground of Being, always grounding me,

My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,

Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,

Come to me now, disguised as everything.

29 Comments

Filed under christianity, imagination, literature, Meditation, Poems

29 responses to “Oh come, Oh come! Some Advent Reflections

  1. Jeanette Sears

    Wonderful!

  2. Our modern church calendars don’t usually make room for seasons of faith. They get drowned out by bake sales and Christmas productions for children. I think we’ve lost something in the exchange. I’ve been appreciating your focus on spiritual seasons — and not just for the individual. We are blessed and wiser when the church points us to corporate seasons to share with the larger community of God’s people. Our personal seasons may not always line up with those of the church. But faith teaches us to keep a foot in new and unseen places.

    I look forward to more of your revoicings.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Mathew, I agree with you and I think we need to reclaim advent as a time of quiet and reflection, the fast before the feast. It should be to Christmas what Lent is to Easter, but now we just get subjected to all the clamour and pressure to consume, so we have to fight to keep and deepen whatever sacred spaces and times are left to us.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Steve, I appreciate your posting this and I’m looking forward to some richer fuller. Collaboration together at some point loving the CDs you left me!

  3. If one replaced “Sapienita” with “Pistis Sophia,” this could be a profound Gnostic poem. Never mind–it is perfect just as it is.

    • malcolmguite

      Of course the Latin Sapientia is itself a translation of the Greek Sophia. Christianity always had a ‘wiadom’ tradition. The disagreement with the Gnostics was about access. Gnostics taught that wisdom was hidden and available only to an initiated elite who had special’gnosis’ or knowledge, Christians taught that this same wisdom, this saving knowledge was open and available to all.

      • Carol Trevey

        Thank you for an absolutely beautiful poem, and thank you also for clarifying gnosticism as an elite system of gaining knowledge as opposed to knowledge as a gift.

      • malcolmguite

        Thanks Carol, I’m glad you enjoyed the poem and found the comments helpful. I will be posting the last two of the full sequence of seven sonnets in the next couple of days
        Malcolm

  4. Thank you, thank you. What a gift. I am so grateful for this sonnet and eagerly anticipate the following ones. We shall definitely be using them in our family to help us find some sacred space this Advent.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Joanna, I’m glad you have found and will use these sonnets, I wrote them in the hope that they would help to reclaim some sacred space for those who read and shared them

  5. Jane K

    Thankyou, this is truly beautiful and I so much agree with earlier comments about finding sacred space. I will be following the sonnets through Advent and have passed on the link to other friends.

  6. Pingback: O Adonai, my second Advent reflection and sonnet | Malcolm Guite

  7. yeah it’s got the space thing going on: I find this very refreshingly spacious. Like a still clear lake that runs very deep, with tall beautiful mountains reflected in it. so totally awesome poetry. the foundation; root; stronghold of existence, where everything begins and ends; and the source of all things; strong arms under fragile existences; He is holding us together and keeping us going…. and comes to meet us wherever we’re at.

  8. Malcolm – would you mind if I put this sonnet on my blog tomorrow? Linked back here, obviously.

    • malcolmguite

      Dear Joanna you would be most welcome. I am happy for any of these sonnets to be reposted with links back here if possible. I am hoping to publish them altogether in book form next year
      M

  9. Thank you! I am very grateful and I really hope you do publish them in a book .

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  13. Michelle

    Wow. I don’t know what else to say. The poem is exquisite, but there is also something incredibly powerful in hearing it from the poet’s own voice. The urgency, richness, and tenderness in his voice made me cry.
    I hope he will record himself reading his poems for release on CD or mp3s on iTunes. I would purchase them for myself and as gifts.
    Beautiful.

    • malcolmguite

      Thank you for your comment Michelle, several people have asked me about recording these poems and it is something i definitely intend to do. I’ll post about it on this blog once its done and available.

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