…severed from the roots of ritual
We surf the surface of a widescreen world
And find no virtue in the virtual…
(Malcolm Guite)

* * *

I attended a great concert by Winnipeg-based singer-songwriter Steve Bell a few weeks ago here in Victoria. Featured in the show were a good number of songs from his new album Keening For the Dawn – which, unlike so much of the holiday fluff out there, delves soulfully into the aching and longing and joy of this soon-to-begin holy season (yep, it’s next Sunday that Advent begins). The album is not merely another Christmas album – for it takes on the more extended period of Advent, Christmastide and Epiphany and thus embraces the waiting, the joy, the darkness, the light and even the horror of what happens shortly after the birth (i.e. the murder of the children and the holy family becoming refugees into Egypt).

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is a 19th-century Advent hymn based on 12th-century Latin “antiphons” which address seven diverse characteristics of the coming Christ. The re-visited version on Keening is (as Steve noted at the show) “less dirge-y” than many renditions out there. In order to shake up the flow but keep the intent of all seven verses/characteristics intact, Steve has replaced a couple of the sung verses with some brilliant poetry by Malcolm Guite, a UK poet and priest who he met at a C.S. Lewis conference. Malcom has re-interpreted respective verses of the song in sonnet form.

And it’s one of those sonnets that I want to share with you today as a way to prepare for the season of preparation.

So here it is – Malcolm Guite’s sonnet for “O Radix” (O Root Of Jesse). It’s stunning as a reflection and prayer as we prepare to ‘descend’ together into this season of sacred waiting:

* * *
All of us, sprung from one deep hidden seed,
Rose from a root invisible to all
We knew the virtues once of every weed
But, severed from the roots of ritual
We surf the surface of a widescreen world
And find no virtue in the virtual
We shrivel on the edges of a wood
Whose heart we once inhabited in love
Now we have need of you, forgotten Root
The stock and stem of every living thing
Whom once we worshiped in the sacred grove
For now is winter, now is withering
Unless we let you root us deep within
Under the ground of being, graft us in

* * *

If you’re interested, you can read more about the re-working of this ancient hymn, as well as have a listen here at Steve Bell’s website.