Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Over-functioning Clay: O Rex gentium

O King of the nations, and their Desire, you are the cornerstone who makes us both one: Come and save the creature whom you fashioned from clay.

I often find myself trying to do, be, think, and expect too much. Rather than allowing Jesus to be the true desire in my life, I settle for something much less: getting my way, following my desires, setting the limits of my life. It feels good for a time; but it always leads to a crisis, eventually.

The Great O Antiphon for this day serves as an aural antidote to this. Using the exalted language of kings and cornerstones, this brief sentence reminds us that we are but earth, clay. We are, in a sense, mud. Great, glorious mud—fashioned by God into superb beings and given the image of God—but mud, nonetheless. When we forget this, we tend to become destructive to ourselves and others; we cease to look to God for life and direction. While we try to become more than were meant to be, we sink into the mire from which we arose. We become, in short, over-functioning clay.

America tends to reward over-functioning. Few things seem to be more lauded than burning out in the pursuit of imagined excellence. Like a shooting star on a bleak, cloudless winter night, so many people froth and burn for a short, intense arc… only to become profoundly damaged by their bid to displace Jesus as the “desire of nations.”

The Christian life is marked by humility, being “earthed” in reality. This is no shame. It is being rooted in the truth, free to live as we were meant to. During the last days of Advent, we are recalled to this truth in the O Antiphons, even as they frame the words of the Magnificat—St. Mary’s great song of thanksgiving for God’s amazing decision to bring the wayward clay of humanity back into the loving and redeeming hands of the Master Potter.

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