Advent: poetry for the spiritual life

When I was little, one of my older sisters lent me a tiny book of lines from Shakespeare’s sonnets. Dazzled by their brilliance, insight into human nature, and eloquence, I decided I would be a poet!

My dream of writing poetry didn’t last long, but I remember well the favorite poem I wrote during my “poetry phase.”  It was about my sister’s golden hair. I loved that poem—but now I realize that it was not so much about the poem itself. Rather, I loved how writing the poem enabled me to see the unique golden quality of the blond hair of another of my sisters. To this day, I have never seen anyone else with hair that exquisite golden color.

Like all the arts, poetry has an ever-more important role in our rapid-paced culture: to help us to stop long enough to really see something as it is.


In the Gospel for this very first Sunday of Advent (Mk. 13:33-37), which sets the tone for the rest of Advent, Jesus repeats the injunction to “watch” at least three times: “Watch!” “Be watchful!” “Be vigilant.” He really doesn’t want us to be caught sleeping, or unaware, or off-guard. Who (or what) is Jesus telling us—even warning us—not to miss? The “master of the house” — the Lord— when he comes.


Advent is a season of expectation for one of the most startling, unexpected, and heart-rending events ever: the coming of the almighty Word of God into the world as a vulnerable Baby. Advent is a season for artists, poets, musicians, and theater to express humanity’s deepest longing: for the Universal Lover who descends from unapproachable heights to be with the Beloved.

Yet, what is the logic of Advent? The Infant God-Child has grown up and the Second (Final) Coming of the Lord will happen at the end of time (most likely not within the next four weeks). How can we live these words of Jesus this Advent? What (or Whom) are we looking for?

We look for the coming of the Word of God into our here and now.

Advent, nature, and our Catholic Christian tradition each give us ways to look anew for the faithful presence of God in our lives, in our world, and most especially, in others and in ourselves. The expectant tension of Advent—which is so short—helps us to stop and pay attention. By looking deeper, by noticing details, by seeking the “essence” of things, we can see and hear the Word of God coming to us today: the same Word of God who has put his mark on every creature and his image in every person. What Word is God speaking to us, to you and to me, this Advent?

My favorite Advent poet, Christina Rossetti, offers us one possible answer.  Rossetti wrote the lovely popular poem, “A Christmas Carol.” She also wrote a short, eight-line poem-prayer that asks God to grant the spirit of attentiveness that Jesus wants for us. What is one practice we can take on to “stay awake” this Advent?


‘Judge not according to the appearance’

By Christina Rossetti

Lord, purge our eyes to see

Within the seed a tree,

Within the glowing egg a bird,

Within the shroud a butterfly:


Till taught by such, we see

Beyond all creatures Thee,

And hearken for Thy tender word,

And hear it, ‘Fear not: it is I.’

Sister Marie Paul Curley entered the Daughters of Saint Paul when she was a teenager. A published author, Sr. Marie Paul invites others to encounter Christ’s love in the rapidly-developing digital culture. You can find her online at:


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