When Stars Are One
By Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.
She wrote about coming to Chicago that snowy night, and what she saw on Michigan Boulevard. It was Christmas, 1932. Bearing myrrh, frankincense and gold in the guise of hunger, loneliness and poverty (probably an inner poverty) young Jessica Powers saw her own star above Chicago’s street that night. She did not approach the inmost place, where the Child lay peacefully asleep. The light was more than she could bear. But, from where she stood, she could see tears upon the Mother’s face. So she decided to give her gifts to the Mother. They both cried, with the night ending “in a golden blur.”1 Was the Mother crying with the One who sent the Child?
Each Christmas, I come back to this poem and ask myself what my myrrh, frankincense and gold might be this year. (As I pen these lines, I become aware that Jessica mentions the myrrh of suffering, first.) It is a calming thought to know that it is perfectly acceptable for the world, or any one of us, to bring our humanity, our sadness and all our yearnings as gifts to this Child. St. John of the Cross, one of Jessica’s favorite saints, intimates in his Romances that, at the first Christmas, God took the world’s fears, concerns and anxieties and gave peace, comfort and joy in their place. In fact, the world’s tears were jewels brought to the wedding feast. It is quite comforting to see this event as a gift exchange, with each drawing the other’s name.2
While, with all my own weakness, I intend to bring the sufferings of the world to the crib this Christmas, I do have a curious inner prompting to ask for something concrete in exchange for my sincerity. Strangely, I would like to receive a Christmas mantra. When troubles are many, and one is unable to pray as one did formerly, a mantra can be quite soothing and strengthening. I have always thought of a mantra as being a special “word” from God consisting of not more than seven syllables. This is an age-old prayer form. In a way, repeating the mantra over and over throughout the day effects in one’s soul what the words say. (Sometimes, I cheat and allow the mantra to be more or less than seven syllables.) Often, the mantra just comes, with no work on the person’s part. But if this does not happen, one can also quietly ponder and help the “word” come into being. It can happen that one awakens in the morning with a mantra. Recently, a friend shared that this happened to her. She awoke with the words: “In everything, my love surrounds you.” A perfect seven-syllable mantra, of course, would be: “My love surrounds you always.” Another example of a mantra is: “My love will never fail you.” This Christmas, I would very much like to receive a mantra that I could share with the world.
Only One Star
Jessica Powers has another poem about the Magi. She felt that these three sages were fortunate in that they had only one star to follow.3 She, herself, had many stars to consider. Still, she had a sense that out past the sun, round midnight, all the stars are one. Longing for this “onement,” she closes the poem, saying, “All places that have light in them are truly Bethlehem.”
The ancients felt that for every star in the heavens, there is a star down here on earth, hidden either within us or around us. At this time of the world’s worry and fear, it seems good to notice, and to look for, all those seemingly undramatic stars God sends everyday. These are the little stars that shine out in unsuspecting places. For example, there was the real and somewhat intimate conversation with the woman in the shoe store, whose son takes care of the wounded, and for whose safety a mother’s heartfelt prayer rises up to heaven several times a day. I also saw one of those little stars in the radiance of a very infirm friend who looked into the face of the priest blessing her.
When I began this reflection, I had no perfect seven-syllable mantra. But as the meditation unfolded, a mantra came: “This moment, your Bethlehem!” I share it with the world.
1Jessica Powers, Selected Poetry of Jessica Powers, “Michigan Boulevard, Chicago,”ed. Regina Siegfried, Robert Morneau, (Kansas City, Missouri: Sheed and Ward, 1989), p.82.
2St. John of the Cross, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D.,Otilio Rodriguez , O.C.D., (Washington, D.C.:ICS Publications, 1979), p.732.
3Selected Poetry of Jessica Powers, p.79.
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