by James Walker
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
—Rainer Maria Rilke
In 1983 I first experienced the richness of the season of Lent. This just happened to have coincided with my arrival on staff at All Saints Church. Sure, I knew a little about Lent, born and raised Presbyterian, but the dramatic marking of the season came alive for me as I experienced my first Lent at All Saints.
Each year, I continue to be enormously grateful for this time set aside for deep reflection. This Rilke poem has a permanent place in my heart — a song that sings in my soul. I first came across it in a choral setting by distinguished American composer Gwyneth Walker. It has been seven years since Canterbury Choir sang this stirring anthem in worship at All Saints, and we will be offering it on Sunday, March 1.
As we have prepared the music and text over the past several weeks — in community, the poem has become even more meaningful to me — personally. The words of Rilke call me to stop … to listen to that “still, small voice” of God.
For me to go to the limits of my longing, to flare up like a flame, I do need to find a way to stop, to remove the clutter of life and to deeply listen. That can be scary, for I don’t know what I’ll hear when I’m truly open and alert.
And yet, that journey of communion that leads to fuller, more authentic, life is not solitary. At the beginning of a silent retreat several years ago, my spiritual director handed me a card that read: “Imagine how it is for God to have this kind of time with you.”
Give me your hand.