29 March, 2007

Two items to pack for a dark night of travel

Eliot and I have both written recently about the experience of passing through a "dark night", when you feel your faith falling apart. I'd like to note a few items that I've found helpful during such periods.

The first is prayer. This is tricky, since one can go through all the motions of prayer without actually opening oneself to God. I'll leave that discussion to those who are better practiced than I. I've noticed that people tend to look at prayer as more of an individual matter, but I've always enjoyed praying the Psalms with other people. Although I described an image of walking alone on a remote path on a dark night, it only feels that way; we never really walk alone. My wife is my closest companion these days; we pray the current Roman Vespers together. She prays with me when I offer, and often she asks me to pray with her.

The second is hymnody, or at least sacred poetry. "He who sings prays twice," St. Ambrose wrote. I have read that he once defied the Roman empire by shutting himself and his flock in the cathedral at Milan and singing hymns for several days, until the emperor gave up. For my part, I think I discovered the power of hymnody when (1) I entered the Catholic Church in a parish where an English rendition of the Jubilate Deo chants were used, and (2) when I lay in a hospital bed, terrified of what was going on, and found that singing hymns calmed me down. Curiously, two of these come from other coverts to Catholicism.

The first is a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and you can recognize the last line as the title of my previous post. The first line comes from the prophet Jeremiah (12·1):

THOU art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?

Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build—but not I build; no, but strain,
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.
Next, a poem from John Henry Newman, whose writings I wish I read more. This poem is often rewritten as a hymn.
LEAD, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home—
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor pray'd that Thou
Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on,
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.
Now, a hymn that I have found only in one place, the famous Adoremus hymnal (or infamous, depending on one's point of view). It is apparently based on an Italian poem or hymn by St. Alphonsus Liguori called O Dio bello, but I have not found it in Italian, and my inquiries in Italy some years ago were fruitless. If anyone knows where I can find the original text, short of reading Liguori's works (which are many and voluminous) please tell me.
O God of loveliness, O Lord of heaven above,
so worthy to receive my heart's devoted love!
How worthy to possess my heart's devoted love.
So sweet thy countenance, so gracious to behold
That only glance were bliss untold.

Thou are blest Three in One, yet undivided still,
Thou are that one alone whose love my heart can fill.
The heav'ns and earth below, were fashioned by thy word;
How great thou art, O holy Lord!

O Loveliness supreme, and Beauty infinite!
O everflowing stream and ocean of delight!
O Life by which I live my truest life above;
I give thee undivided love.
My wife and baby are now awake, so I'll leave off for now.

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