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

In 1957, four days before Christmas, a memorable one befell me.

A new postulant, in formation to become a nun, I hurried with the choir, our Libers in hand, down shadowy corridors toward the community room of the professed religious as their recreation concluded. We were fulfilling another Advent tradition.

The pitchpipe sounded. With full hearts, we began chanting the sixth-century antiphon, “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death!” (Isaiah 9:1). Its strains resonated through my cells, shifted heart-heaviness, opened, anew, bleary eyes. Suddenly, homesickness, the austerities of manual work, the wintry chill, the exhaustion no longer mattered. Another world, brimming with light, engulfed my darkness; within its wake evoked surrender to this semi-cloistered life, its mysteries beckoning me.

In pursuit of the Sacred for most of my life, I continue experiencing O!s that relieve darkness and deepen my surrender to my unique path, wherever it will lead—often fraught with pain, uncertainty, and the mandate to change.

Today, my terminal illness calls for more surrender to the Unknown—all the more, with full heart, to chant O Radiant Dawn and wait in the darkness. This will eventually pass. There will be Light.