Inconsoleable Longing; 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 praying 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 larger cycle of sonnets for the church year which some of you have been following on these pages. That cycle is now completed, published, and, I am happy to say, actually available as a book called Sounding the Seasons. It is available immediately from Canterbury Press, the publishers, and should be available in the next few days from Amazon etc.

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 Julia 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.

Another way you might like to consider entering into and rediscovering Advent as a season of longing is through Steve Bell‘s new cd Keening for the Dawn. Steve has written a moving sequence of songs taking us from  longing and waiting in the dark, through the oracles of prophecy, to the first fulfilment in the birth of Christ and the deeper glimpses of epiphany. He has woven some of my poetry into his songs and I feel deeply honoured to be part of this record.

Steve Bell's Advent Album

Steve Bell’s Advent Album

20 Comments

Filed under christianity, imagination, literature, Meditation, Poems

20 responses to “Inconsoleable Longing; Some Advent Reflections

  1. Linda Hanford

    Hi Malcolm, I am now in Victoria BC as general manager of a nursing home. As I meditate on your beautiful sonnet, one line sprang out at me to speak to my practice in leading for excellence in dementia care. With one small change, a simple hyphen: O Memory of time re-minding me … Our residents spend much if not all of their time in memory. Dementia – de-minding – can be supported and improved in a care climate that sees this wandering in memory as valued reflection. When we listen with our open heart instead of our closed mind, their lives retain meaning. Thank you for giving me this gift.

  2. Alice

    Your post is a great reminder of the Advent and calming and hopeful. Hooray for the book! I will watch for it.

  3. Disguised as everything!

    Thank you.

  4. I attest to the beauty of the cd: I really enjoy the inclusion of you speaking from your verse, as well as the adaptations of your verse in the songs, Malcolm — the Spirit breathes through. The cd includes lovely variations of traditional carols and even a Hebrew blessing — perfect for the season. I’m looking forward to having the book of sonnets in my hands. Good luck with the launch, “Peace be unto you from the watching angels…” Love in Christ, as always xxx

  5. Susanne Wilson

    I rejoice in your revoice! Beautiful. Thank you.

  6. Stephen

    Malcolm, as always this sonnet strikes into my soul. Would it be possible to put up an MP3 of all the Advent sonnets, back to back, so those of us who are travelling over the next month can quietly contemplate them on the train, coach, and underground?

  7. Pingback: Inconsoleable Longing; Some Advent Reflections | Malcolm Guite « ConnectingthaDots

  8. I pray these Sonnets may be blessed to draw others to our “inconsoleable longing.”
    http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2012/11/27/improbable-advent-prepare-ye-the-way/

  9. Pingback: From one voice to many; the adventures of a sonnet | Malcolm Guite

  10. Malcolm, I was pointed here by Chris Fewings via facebook. I’m very glad that he did.

    Thank you for this reminder. A year or so ago, Kathryn Rose, a musician and singer put these up as MP3 on her blog. A recording of her singing them in Latin. They were beautiful than – and continue to inspire me now.

    Thank you for your work on these.

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

  12. Pingback: O come, Wisdom « The Jog

  13. Pingback: From one voice to many; the adventures of a sonnet | Malcolm Guite

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

  15. Pingback: O Sapienta » The Fellowship of St. Barnabas

  16. Pingback: The ‘Great O’ Antiphons | The Homely Hours

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