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Gift-giving in Chicago (after Rilke)

From the stupor of Black Friday and Cyber-Monday excess Advent imposes its stillness that we might awaken to something other than the relentless seductions of the marketplace offering manufactured joy with an early expiration date. The poet writes,

If only it could all for once be so utterly still. . .
if the accidental and approximate
were muted, including the neighbor’s laugh,
and if the noise my senses keep making
didn’t hinder me from waking,
then I could think You in a thousand-fold
thought all the way to Your bounds,
and own You – if only in the moment of a smile –
and thus give You as a gift to everything alive
like a word of thanks.*

What if we gave this, just this: A walk through the zoo at night where animals slumber while children’s eyes grow wide at the array of colored lights. The heartiness of festive meals, prepared together and eaten quietly, the TV off. The playfulness of skating at the park where lovers cling to each other and laugh when the ice makes toddlers of them again. Gazing together at the impossibly extravagant splendor of the museum’s Neapolitan Creche. Joining the crush of people at the outdoor market where the aromas of spiced drinks mingle with grilled brats and sweet cakes amid a thousand delicate glass ornaments. Sitting together under candles illumining a darkened sanctuary, familiar carols gathering together the years’ hopes and fears. What if we simply gave this, just this?

Even this would hardly come close to the poet’s imagined gift. But even if these gifts and countless others like them are imperfect, they will evoke gratitude, a word of thanks from hearts too often heavy and cold where, amid Advent’s utter stillness, hope is kindled and the holy gift we yearn to give to everything alive becomes the Christ gift we receive.

John H. Thomas
December 5, 2013

*Rainer Maria Rilke, Prayers of a Young Poet, translated by Mark Burrows, 2013


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