Rain down gently upon us: an Advent reflection by Cynthia Bourgeault

Dear Wisdom friends,

Two days before Christmas and I am sitting out here in my hermitage on Eagle Island, where I managed to arrive and get myself settled in just before the winds turned north and bitterly cold. If all goes well, I will be here into next week.

I am working strongly with two items: the “Rorate Coeli,” that ancient Gregorian Advent chant, plus the Gurdjieff Movement 39. Together they circumscribe a space whose qualities are repentance, comfort, and simple, unwavering presence. There is a distinctly feminine quality to the presence, which began with the surprise “guest appearance” of Mary at our Advent retreat last week, her tenderness palpable.

The repentance on our collective human plate right now can be no less than deep remorse of conscience. The verses of the Rorate Coeli (I’m singing in it in the New Camaldoli version) plunge us right into the heart of Old Testament lament and confession. Designed to be sung successively in each of the four weeks of Advent, they lead us on a journey from despair (“your holy cities are a desert, Jerusalem a desolation: your holy and beautiful house where our ancestors praised you”) to confession (“we have sinned and are as unclean thing; our iniquities, like the wind have taken us away; you have hid your face and consumed us because of our iniquitie”), to acknowledgement of God’s absolute sovereignty (“I even I am the Lord, and there is none that can deliver out of my hand”) to comfort and the promise of forgiveness and restitution (“Comfort, comfort ye my people, my salvation will not tarry; I have blotted out as a thick cloud your transgressions; fear not, for I will save you”). I am telescoping it, of course, singing two verses in the morning and two in the evening. But of course, like all good tunes, they keep singing themselves inside me throughout the day.

It is amazing how cleansing this somehow feels, and how the Mercy flows in even as these ancient words of remorse flow out.

Movement 39, Gurdjieff’s last, is utterly simple—simply six repetitive chords, accompanied by four gestures, rotating sequential through the centers: thinking, feeling, sensing. And yet it speaks of an utter unflappability, a steady “I AM” that will not be shaken. Period. I have the feeling that if I were to die in the midst of this movement, the movement would still carry on, lifting me gently like Peter across the final hand-stretch of the water I have been trying to walk on all my life.

Something like this is a quality we are all going to need, planetarily, to get through these next few weeks, but we are not walking alone. The hand is already outstretched; all that remains is to receive it in humility and gratitude, and with courage.

And so I out here am alone—sorta. Rafe once told me that “When you’re a true hermit, you’re ever alone.” Rafe is here now, of course, and the Blessed Virgin continues to slide in and out, and I carry each of you in my heart as I explore this utterly virginal turf, where hope against hope I hear the tumbler locks gently slipping into place and the sense that, as in those final verses of the Rorate Coeli, our cry has been heard and help is on its way.

It gets dark by 4:00 here at solstice in downeast Maine. The Advent candles glow very brightly.

My love and blessing to each one of you. Hold fast the hope.



Rorate Caeli Chant

Movement 39

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