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O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;

before you kings will shut their mouths,

to you the nations will make their prayer:

Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

The third O Antiphon, December 19, 2020, addresses the promised Messiah as Root of Jesse, an image found in Isaiah 11: 1 and 10, and repeated in the prophet Jeremiah.

This O Antiphon begins with the rich metaphor: Root of Jesse that evidences the Holy’s intervention in human history. Jesse, pious farmer and breeder of sheep outside of Bethlehem, fathered David (1000 BCE), who became the second King of ancient Israel, founder of the Judean dynasty, statesman, warrior, musician, poet, author of the Psalms, and egregious sinner before his conversion of heart.

David’s total reliance upon Yahweh moved his people toward a new identity, only to disintegrate within moral lassitude following the opulent reign of his son Solomon. Still, the Israelites needed a Messiah who would liberate them; white-hot, their longing.

Then followed centuries of valiant leaders, all related to Jesse, with intermittent periods of peace and prosperity. Somewhere, veiled in the past, an unknown artist, seized by this succession of worthy leaders, imaged this phenomenon as the Tree of Life from which the Messiah would emerge.

Such must have also inspired the composer of this Antiphon. Reflection upon this composite would become a trenchant symbol/sign among peoples, kings, and nations (pagans). Here was power no one would mess with. Yet again, humankind has fallen short.   

Thus the continuing cry: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,

who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush

and gave him the law on Sinai:

Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

The second O Antiphon, December 18, 2020, addresses the promised Messiah as Adonai, influenced by Isaiah11: 4-5; 33:22.

The ancient Hebrew word Adonai means Lord or Master: it speaks to His absolute sovereignty over all life, first recorded in the Old Testament book of Genesis. Then, the Israelites experienced the harshness, the complexity of life. Early on, they learned that their survival depended upon Another, a monotheistic God, unlike the pantheon of gods worshipped by their neighbors. Through the wisdom of the first patriarch Abraham came an inchoate calling, culminating centuries later within the covenanted relationship, finalized by the prophet Moses.

It is to this prophet’s reliance upon the power of God that we turn. Like the others, he experienced Adonai’s call in the burning bush, together with the corresponding mandate of freeing the Israelites from Pharaoh’s oppression—An impossible task Moses acceded to only after pointed dialogue. The outstretched arm played a significant role in this freedom.

Because the Red Sea thwarted the Israelites’ flight from hundreds of Pharaoh’s chariots armed to kill, Adonai instructed Moses to raise his arm, causing the waters to part into dry ground for them to cross. When everyone was freed, Moses was instructed to lower his arm, causing the rushing waters to drown horses, chariots, and drivers.

Like the Israelites, we falter before obvious good; we need help, beyond our imagination. Thus the outstretched arm from the Moses story still works. The imperatives, Come and redeem signify willingness to change. On our own, such is impossible.  

This morning’s nun dream gave me considerable pause:

 It is evening, spring. Hundreds of nuns have gathered at a large convent for a supper meeting with their new Provincial. Conversations buzz, last minute preparations fall into place, some finger rosary beads. For days, I have been responsible for ordering and overseeing the preparation of the steamed vegetables for the meal. I was still uneasy, fearful of asking for help. The Superior and her entourage greet everyone as they stream into the refectory and take their places. To my dismay, I notice a serpentine mushy-like, pale green thing inching along the hardwood floor, its head moving with each twist of its body. “Is that asparagus?” I ask.

 The dream story mirrors another shameful experience in 1966 when I was a recently professed nun, overwhelmed by joint pain, loneliness, and desperately seeking attention. Then, arrangements of tiger lilies for the refectory tables, cut that morning by the creek bed, had died.

So what does this dream signify in my present circumstances? It must have something to do with that serpentine mushy-like, pale green thing: Shocking in its repulsiveness. I liken it to asparagus, its gyrating phallic form like something you might encounter in Kafkaesque imagination.

That I’m so unnerved by this glob of glistening tissue suggests its emergence from my unconscious shadow: The scum of unacceptable character defects that still dominate my choices and thoughts and keep me in bondage. Thus my CPA 12 Step work continues, one day at a time …

 

 

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