I wrote this poem of sorts to a contemplative nun I met a number of years ago. She prayed often for me and for my family, and I wanted to thank her, as a layman, for the radical gift of her vowed consecration to Christ. It’s very “Neal” in its language, but if you can get beyond that maybe you can catch at least some sense of the beauty of that state of life I tried to capture. Below the poem is the image I used to pray with before I wrote. It’s of St. Catherine of Siena drinking from the side wound of Christ, painted in the mid-15th century.
Ancilla Domini (Handmaid of the Lord)
God alone, for us alone you live
there, ‘neath those stone vaults
bent, veiled, heart aloft
celestial curtains rip, fall away,
stripped down by love’s pine.
God-revealed for us, to us, in us
by and through your fiery prayer
that burns night and day
up-toward your Bridegroom:
Come! Abide! Remain!
In your gathered hours
outpouring grace, sacred space
where Wisdom at last plays free,
His children all-guileless.
You never do violence, save by love
as your peaceful wills are ever-warring
twixt falling night and rising Day,
conquering death by means of serenest love.
From nuptial chambers — yours! —
leaks divine Fire, O wedded Bride,
out into our fields, far and wide
from whence we draw warmth and light
in the long dark night’s bitter chill.
My sister, for us
stand so near
the Master’s side-torn Flood,
drink deep and
share with us, parched in the midday heat,
the Bridegroom’s Vintage best:
God-crushed, pressed, distilled into
inebriating Blood, spiced Wine
of the ever-blessing, blood-red Vine.
You, my sister, called near
to gather from the Wellspring’s shore
for our salvation you implore:
For us you die —
we who have been called
out into the tilling field
to trade in the market,
to love in the home,
to sweat in the sun
that we might lift earth and sky
daily with, through and in you
unto God Most High.
Deo gratias et gratias tibi.