A Christmas poem, and a Christmas prayer

The Burning Babe

by Robert Southwell, SJ

As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,

Surpris’d I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow;

And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,

A pretty Babe all burning bright did in the air appear;

Who, scorched with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed

As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.

“Alas!” quoth he, “but newly born, in fiery heats I fry,

Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I!

My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,

Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns;

The fuel Justice layeth on, and Mercy blows the coals,

The metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defiled souls,

For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,

So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.”

With this he vanish’d out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,

And straight I called unto mind that it was Christmas day.

(Thanks again, to the Poetry Foundation.)

If, like most who frequent this blog, you are an Episcopalian or Anglican, then it is worth knowing that our spiritual forebears tortured and killed the man who wrote this poem. Worth knowing because, at the distance that time provides it is often possible to realize that God speaks with eloquence and power from both sides of the theological divides that separate faiths and nations, through Thomas Cranmers and Robert Southwells alike. John Donne lampooned Ignatius Loyola, yet his Divine Poems (scroll down a bit) could not have been written were he unfamiliar with Ignatius’ method of meditating on the Scriptures.

My prayer this Christmas is that those on both sides of the divide in our disputatious Communion will continue to be true to what they believe that God is calling them to say, and that we may realize the fruits of honest Christian disagreement.

(For thoughts in a somewhat similar vein, see this essay by Marshall Scott.)

I will be posting more poetry in the coming week, but I am taking a break from Anglican news. If you want to keep up with newspaper reports, however, I’d recommend keeping an eye on both The Washington Post and The New York Times.

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