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O Key of David and Scepter of the House of Israel;

you open and no one can shut;

you shut and no one can open:

Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,

those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

The fourth O Antiphon addresses the longed-for Messiah as the Key of David and Scepter, drawn from Isaiah 9:6 and 22:22.

Again, we begin with metaphors of royal power. Whoever possesses keys has the means to imprison others, either literally or psychologically or spiritually: a bonding to another occurs. Whoever holds the scepter, an ancient symbol of imperial sovereignty, holds absolute sway over nations; they are controlled, sometimes locked down within rules and regulations, benevolent or sadistic.

The Israelites’ checkered experience with their kings and those of neighboring countries led them to long for a Messiah, with power to effect vital and lasting change. Intermittent warfare only weakened them. Centuries of exile under the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians further undermined their sense of being Yahweh’s chosen people. Living in darkness and the shadow of death grieved them. A few did remember better times and yearned for a different way of life.

Like all the other O Antiphons, the imperative Come seeks the Messiah’s intervention in His people’s suffering, largely caused by ignorance and self-will. Only He can bring about lasting change.

And are we that different from the ancient Israelites? Living in self-imposed prisons of fear and doubt? Our sloth compounding our darkness? Speaking for myself, I think not, especially since I’m living within the shadow of death.

Imperceptibly, more darkness seeps into the next moment, withdraws warmth from what had been greening, prompts the extra sweater, necessitates switching on fixtures and headlights, even beclouds sinfulness. Months of this tenebrous world loom ahead, with months of deepening awareness, critical for maneuvering safely. Too many have experienced falls upon black ice, fender-benders, sickness.

Yet, darkness has its own riches: slowing down, observing the next step, relishing its womb-like embraces, marveling at starry nights, entering the realm of stillness, listening to heart-stirrings, discovering nuances of meaning, releasing tears. If opened to its dailyness, dreams emerge, shadowy bedrooms invite deeper sleep, senses of touch and hearing and smelling sharpen and recreate our world.

The prophet Isaiah speaks to this consoling mystery: I form the light and create the darkness. I, the Lord, do all these things.

Within such darkness, we learn to see, anew.

“I’ve never died before! I don’t know how to do this!” said Miki, slumped in a wheelchair at the table, her breathing supported by two linked concentrators whirring away like an intrusive helper. Lung cancer had created this dependence, her bloated cheeks bearing the indentations of the nasal tubing.

Her complaints drew compassion from her friends who had been visiting her in the nursing home since her admission, months before. Miki, the children’s reader at the city library, began to resemble one of her waifs—a wisp of hair emerging from her red knitted cap like a lost puppy. That was in 2016.

In my present circumstances, I think of Miki, of her initial resistance to the dose of morphine offered by the hospice nurse, of her transition, of the joyful funeral at St. Pius V, followed by lunch and memories with friends. Unlike, Miki, I’ve had almost two years managing my terminal disease and living with its culmination in the death of my body—sometime in the future, unknown to anyone.

I only have this twenty-four hours in which to breathe life into acceptance prayer and meditation as my energy wanes and I need more help. Yet, I’m still focused on my care plan, alternating blog composition, significant reading, and exercise, with resting, and listening to classical music. Difficulty making speech shortens phone contacts and visits. Tomorrow will be another opportunity to grow spiritually, if granted.

I learned much from Miki, ever mindful of her help.

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