Sunday, February 28, 2016

Gertrud von Le Fort/Hymns to the Church

Gertrude von Le Fort (1876-1971)
Gertrud von Le Fort, a German mystic, writer and convert to Catholicism at the age of fifty, has recently captured my attention and deeply moved my heart with her magnificent poetry.  She published over 20 books of poetry, essays, short stories and novels and was known as the "greatest contemporary transcendent poet."

In her book, Hymns to the Church, published in 1938 by Sheed and Ward, she beautifully captures the liturgical cycle with uplifting words that soar and sweep across the heart.  I was fortunate to find a copy of Hymns to the Church at the public library, because the only copy listed for sale on Amazon was offered for $500.00!  What a treasure these words are that a used book would be so highly valued!   In keeping with the season of Lent, here is one of my favorites: 


Your voice speaks to my soul:
    Be not afraid of my golden garments, have no fear of
    the rays of my candles,
For they are all but veils of my love, they are all but as
    tender hands covering my secret.
I will draw them away, weeping soul, that you may see I am
     no stranger to you.
How should a mother not resemble her child?
All your sorrows are in me.
I am born out of suffering, I have bloomed out of five
     holy wounds.
I grew on the tree of humiliation, I found strength in the
     bitter wine of tears.
I am a white rose in a chalice full of blood.
I live on suffering, I am the strength out of suffering, I am
     glory out of suffering:
Come to my soul and find your home.


And your voice speaks:
     I know of your shuddering at joy, I know how you go
     pale before the hours that are clad in purple.
I know your terror before the beakers of fullness,
I know too how you tremble before the soul of the best
For your depths are wounded by gladness; it reaches down
     into you with cold hands,
It quenches all your desires like a great hesitation.
It sinks on your senses like stones of guilt.  It falls on your 
     soul like the reek of wilted herbs.
It wraps you in pain from head to foot, then you are
     sheltered from joy by joy-
Then all your grief becomes eternal.


And your voice speaks:
     I will read the secret of your sorrow, O tender one,
     timid one, kin to my soul, beloved:
It is I who weep in the depths of you!
I have fashioned you for a thousand years and longer, I 
     blessed all your fathers and mothers with the cross.
You have cost me griefs and wounds, among thorns have I
     released your hands from the world.
You have cost me solitude, you have cost me dark silence
     through many generations.
You have cost me goods and chattels, you have cost me the
     ground under my feet, you have cost me a whole
You have grown subtle, soul, you have become like a 
     silky flax that it has taken long to spin:
You have become like a thread, so fine that it no longer
See, you float away lightly over the meadows of life, you
     float away over the flowering lands,
But not one of them can hold you, homeless one, wandering
     soul of my sorrow.


And your voice speaks:
     I will sing a Gloria that shall fill the top of my towers
     with the clangour of their bells.
Praise the Lord all sorrow of the earth!
Let the impoverished praise Him, and those who are in exile,
     let the disappointed praise Him, and the disinherited,
     let Him be praised by all whom nothing satisfies.
Be he praised by the bright torment of the spirit, and by
     the dark torment of nature.
Be He praised by the holy torment of love.
Be He praised by the solitude of the soul and by the soul's 
Be He praised by the sorrow of sin and by the woe that
     all things perish,
Be He praised also by the bitter anguish of death.
See, I strip my altars of all adornment, all their fine linen
     must fade like the loveliness of flowering fields.
All the images on them must hide their faces.
I will take away my last consolation, I will remove the
     Lord's Body, that my soul may become deep night.
For the sorrow of the world has become blessed, because it
     has been loved.
Behold the wood of the Cross on which hung the
     Salvation of the world.

For more, visit this link to read/pray von Le Fort's magnificent Litany for the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart from Hymns to the Church.  

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

In the Upper Room

It was several years ago that I was introduced to The Book of the Savior, a compilation of poetry and essays published by Frank Sheed and Maisie Ward in 1952.  The book is hard to find and I especially treasure my copy.  I've been reading it ever so slowly, perhaps an essay or poem each week, and have been savoring most of what I read.  One of the featured poets in the anthology, Charles O'Donnell, C.S.C., deeply moved me with his poem In the Upper Room.  A google search revealed very little about Fr. O'Donnell other than the fact that he had been the president of Notre Dame University from 1928-1934.  I don't know of anything else that he might have written.  But this, oh how it moves my heart!  Perhaps it moves yours, as well.


In the Upper Room

~ Charles O’Donnell, C.S.C.

What did you hear last night, your head on His breast there?
It was Peter in the dark supper-room
Asking of John,
Who with Mary, His Mother, was just returned
From burying Him.

I heard His blood moving like an unborn child,
And His heart crying.
I heard Him talking with His Father
And the Dove.
I heard an undertone as of the sea swinging, and a whispering at its centre.
I listened, and all the sound
Was a murmuring of names.
I heard my own name beating in His Blood,
And yours, Peter,
And all of you.
And I heard Judas,
And the names of all that have been
Or shall be to the last day.
And it was His Blood was calling out these names,
And they possessed His Blood.

Did you hear my name?
Asked a woman who was sitting at His Mother’s feet.
I heard your name, Mary of Magdala, and it was like a storm at sea
And the waves racing.

I heard Peter’s name,
And the sea broke, I thought, and ran over the world.

You heard then the name of Mary, His Mother, Peter said quietly, as he wept there, kneeling.
I did, and it was like the singing of winds and they moving over an ocean of stars, and every star like a hushed child sleeping.

Again Peter-
What of Iscariot?
I heard the tide come in and I felt the tide go out,
And I saw a dead man washed up on the shore.

And then John fell to weeping, and no one there could comfort him but only Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and he could tell them
No other word.