In my perception, O! is a hiccup of Spirit; it collapses disparate images into fresh paradigms, evokes quickenings, and precipitates change.

I still wonder over a memorable one that befell me four days before Christmas in 1957.

I was a new postulant, in formation to become a nun. Hurriedly, I moved with the choir, our Libers in hand, down shadowy corridors toward the community room of the professed religious where they were gathered for recreation. We were fulfilling another Advent tradition.

The pitch pipe sounded. With full hearts, we began chanting, “O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiate: veni, et illumani sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis!” the ancient strains resonating around us. Suddenly, the austerities of manual work, the wintry chill, the exhaustion no longer mattered. Another world, yearning for light, engulfed my darkness. I glimpsed peace and again surrendered to this mysterious life path.

Today, our darkness is even deeper, the longing for light/deliverance, more aching as we move into a New Year of uncertainty. It is even more fitting to return to this sixth-century antiphon composed by Benedictine French monks at San-Benoit-sur-Loire. With them, we continue to pray, “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death!” taken from Isaiah 9:1.

We are in good company.