On the Threshold

Every year when the season of Advent  approaches, I make a determined effort to enter it with the intent of holding on,  like Jacob wrestling with the protean spirit: I will not let thee go, except thou bless me!   Yes, of course:  the day breaketh, dawn will come, the season will end, we will return to quotidian tasks and a prosaic state of mind.  Don’t think about that now.  Be here! among the light and music.

I attended a Christmas concert last week, and when it was over  my friend and I had the same thought:  we could be doing this kind of thing all year, the music, the candles, everyone singing! but we don’t.  Only at Christmas.

Here are some familiar  lines from a poem by George Herbert, 17th Century, which are not about Christmas ( the festival may even have been banned in England by the time he wrote this)  but famously, about prayer.  The poem is referred to as Prayer (I).

Still, to me these particular lines mean Christmas, they describe the heightened consciousness, enchantment,  and festive anticipation of the season.  I don’t know why.  But I hope you will enjoy them:

 

“Heaven in ordinary, Man well-dressed,/ The Milky Way, the Bird of Paradise,/Church bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood, / The land of Spices, something understood.”

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13 thoughts on “On the Threshold”

  1. Hypatia:
    “Heaven in ordinary, Man well-dressed,/ The Milky Way, the Bird of Paradise,/Church bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood, / The land of Spices, something understood.”

    Is it a roster of blessings?  Is it an acknowledgement of high and special blessings of a particular sort, for a particular need of a particular sort of spirit or mind?

    Or is it praise, comparing something to these superlative things?

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  2. jzdro:
    Is it a roster of blessings?  …?  …?

    I was told to look at each little phrase, and preface it with either “Prayer is…” or “Prayer is like…”

    I don’t know if that is the way George Herbert intended it, but it mostly works OK that way.

    The entire thing is quite short:

    https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44371/prayer-i

     

    Thanks, Ms. Hypatia, for this.   A really nice prayer for Advent, and for the funeral of George Herbert Walker Bush.

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  3. “Heaven in ordinary, Man well-dressed,
    The Milky Way, the Bird of Paradise,
    Church bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
    The land of Spices, something understood.”

    I wonder if the writer wanted to connect the meaning as well as the sounds between the first and second lines as well as the third and fourth. I like the connection of “Man well-dressed” and “Paradise” as well as “soul’s blood” and “understood”.

    Hyp, it is great that you bring poetry to our lives.

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  4. “Heaven in ordinary”: I love that phrase!

    Here’s Tennyson:

    “Love took up,the harp of life, and smote  on it with all his might,/Smote the chord of Self, that, trembling/ Passed in music out of sight.

    Love took  up,the glass of life, and turned it in his glowing hands-/ Every moment, lightly shaken/Ran itself in golden sands.”

    Or as Browning put it in The Last Ride:

    “…changed not in kind, but in degree,/The instant made eternity”

    I also think of a line written by L.E.Sissman, he wrote that to watch his wife bake bread was “..to see a very grave and honorable human candle lit.”

    I think the above lines all approximate the same idea, the sacred within, or shining through, the quotidian.

    Maybe it is the hieratic, ceremonial  aspects of Christmas, the pageants, the lighting of the Advent candles,  familiar rituals both societal and particular to each household, which summon the numinous to the feast.  As Yeats put it:

    “How but in custom and in ceremony/Are innocence and beauty born?”

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  5. Was there a special reason you put an extra “h” in “threshold”, Hyp? Did you want to point to the etymology of the word coming from “thresh”?

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  6. Thank you for an engaging musing on the season. The older I get, the more the little things take on significance, the little traditions, the wonder of a grandchild, the psychic break from turmoil as we turn to gift giving and gatherings.

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  7. jzdro:
    … a particular sort of spirit or mind?

    I like this idea because even as a secularist I enjoy Christmas music because of its uplifting and traditional nature. It reinforces the importance of family and friends.

    As an aside, I feel the same whenever I am invited to a Passover meal or participate in the Hanukkah holiday. I love the fact that I send Christmas cards to my Jewish friends and they include me in a seder and allow me to help light the Menorah. The unity and mutual respect that is shared for the ritual of others is a moving experience for me.

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  8. 10 Cents:
    Was there a special reason you put an extra “h” in “threshold”, Hyp? Did you want to point to the etymology of the word coming from “thresh”?

    A mistake, evidently…I will edit, if possible.

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  9. EThompson:

    jzdro:
    … a particular sort of spirit or mind?

    I like this idea because even as a secularist I enjoy Christmas music because of its uplifting and traditional nature. It reinforces the importance of family and friends.

    As an aside, I feel the same whenever I am invited to a Passover meal or participate in the Hanukkah holiday. I love the fact that I send Christmas cards to my Jewish friends and they include me in a seder and allow me to help light the Menorah. The unity and mutual respect that is shared for the ritual of others is a moving experience for me.

    Yes, I don’t think the religious aspect matters all that much.  It’s the momentary ascension to a higher, or at least other plane, where the powers and principalities of this world hold no sway, indeed, hierarchies are turned on their heads, as in the traditional Yule Lord of Misrule revels. Out of the deepest darkness, the birth of The Light!   It puts me in mind of Samson’s riddle:

    Out of the strong comes something sweet,

    Out of the Eater comes something to eat.

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  10. Hypatia:
    Yes, I don’t think the religious aspect matters all that much.  It’s the momentary ascension to a higher, or at least other plane, where the powers and principalities of this world hold no sway, indeed, hierarchies are turned on their heads, as in the traditional Yule Lord of Misrule revels.

    Exactly. I’ll put it more plainly; the second 5 of the 10 Commandments are rules for all denominations and cultures to live by. I do so because I believe in the quality of a good life.

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  11. Hypatia:
    Yes, I don’t think the religious aspect matters all that much.  It’s the momentary ascension to a higher, or at least other plane, where the powers and principalities of this world hold no sway, indeed, hierarchies are turned on their heads, as in the traditional Yule Lord of Misrule revels. Out of the deepest darkness, the birth of The Light!

    You seem very interested in the other plane, but reluctant to consider it fully.   At least you are curious.

    Progress awaits.   Salvation is offered to you as a gift.

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  12. MJBubba:

    Hypatia:
    Yes, I don’t think the religious aspect matters all that much.  It’s the momentary ascension to a higher, or at least other plane, where the powers and principalities of this world hold no sway, indeed, hierarchies are turned on their heads, as in the traditional Yule Lord of Misrule revels. Out of the deepest darkness, the birth of The Light!

    You seem very interested in the other plane, but reluctant to consider it fully.   At least you are curious.

    My dear sir, perhaps you don’t intend it this way, but this seems condescending.  I’d have to say I don’t know anyone who knows the Bible as well as I do– I can’t take credit for that, it has to do with the bedtime stories read to me aa a child.  I can take credit for my degree in cultural anthropology, and my independent readings in mythology and folklore.

    Yet, I had the humility not to intervene in your post a few days ago purporting to prove that Jesus was indeed born on December 25.

    Progress awaits.

    See, this seems patronizing…

     

    Salvation is offered to you as a gift.

    Got it, thanks.

    (However, I do get where you’re coming from.  I was born there, too.)

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