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Starting Point

Motes of misery made merry by God’s dancing sunbeams

The following reflection is one of a series by Elizabeth West of Harefield, Australia, on the O Antiphons, the alleluia verses from the Liturgy of the Hours traditionally recited during vespers in the latter days of Advent.


At is really quite amazing how much a bad hair day strips one of the desire to pray, as if God has somehow been the cause of all the difficulties, glitches and crises that happen. Such was my day, and when I trundled off to prayer this evening, it was with particularly ill grace.

We began as usual. “O God, come to my assistance,” we said, and feeling particularly truculent, I did not take kindly to the invocation. No help had been forthcoming through the various crises of this day, and in that darkness of mind, the spirit of Christmas seemed far away. “Bah Humbug,” said my soul to the psalms. “Cancel Christmas,” said my spirit to the thought of cooking still to come. “O God! Can’t they keep in tune,” said my irritable self as voices collided in their search for harmonies. So did I groan my way through the first half of office. During the readings I abandoned all pretence of being present to prayer, and simply looked around. Like Pigpen, my gloom hung around me, clouding everything in view.

Peering through its shadows, it was obvious that the small part of the world that I inhabit was alive and active. Everything was going about its own business. No ant, beetle, bug or bird paid the slightest bit of attention to me, or to the gloom I carried. It was all extremely irritating. If no one paid attention to my fit of the blues, I could not even have the satisfaction of stomping on them!

So came the readings. I continued my glowering. However, by fortuitous chance -- or dare one say the grace of God -- a stray blast of sunlight cut through a clump of dust kicked up by the sheep in the paddock. It showed up every mote, and dust became something other -- shining specks held suspended in the stillness. It was extraordinarily beautiful. And with the “ah!” that sunlit dust evoked, a croaky chorus invoked the antiphon: “O Rising Sun, splendor of Eternal light and brilliant Sun of Justice, come and light up the darkness concealing from us the path to life,” and with the singing came the realization that even motes of misery are made merry by the light of God.

There are times when I think I hate the way God picks us up, dumps us in the middle of our own realizations and then sits back and quietly laughs while making sunbeams dance through dust. The singular capacity of grace to draw one out of misery into laughter can be a real irritation sometimes. But would I change it? I think not. We sang our plea that Christ “the Rising Sun, splendor of Eternal light and brilliant Sun of Justice” come and light up the darkness surrounding us, that our paths may be made straight and clear. And without asking, so it was and is.

Grace freely given. For me it came in dust from dry paddocks, sunlight, and the croaky voices of a convent choir. In such little ways does this Sun of Justice lighten the dark places, lift us from our self-centered and sometimes violent passions, and direct our feet on the way of peace.

Sr. Elizabeth A. West is a member of the Australian Province of the Little Company of Mary. She is the retreat director for the Overdale Retreat Centre in Harefield, Australia. Her e-mail address is ewest@lcm.org.au

National Catholic Reporter, December 15, 2000