Penances and Prayers

January 3, 2020  •   Tracy Earl Welliver

Mother and daughter holding ornaments

God’s glory, now, is kindled gentler than candlelight
under the rafters of a barn:
Eternal Peace is sleeping in the hay,
And Wisdom’s born in secret in a straw-roofed stable.

When I was younger, I wrote music to and recorded Thomas Merton’s poem, “Epiphany Carol.” If you have never read it, search it out on the internet. Merton’s words are profound and paint a picture of the awesomeness of Jesus, the newborn King of Kings, lying in a simple straw bed. The shepherds and Wise Men are drawn to pay homage to the One who has been born above all others and brings with him hope for a broken world.

As Merton correctly points out, the gifts we are called to bring to this baby and lay at his feet are our prayers and penances, next to those gifts of worldly wealth. What is it that you have to bring to the stable on this feast of the Epiphany of the Lord? Unless those prayers and penances lead to a new way of living, our gifts will be void of meaning. What we lay before him speaks to the change in us that he has given to us by his birth. Our daily stewardship is resembled in those gifts. If we are to truly echo the kingdom of God in our lives and actions, what we ultimately offer to him is no less than our entire selves. This baby will give his entire self for us, and his work must continue through our hands and feet.

While we unnumbered children of the wicked centuries
Come after with our penances and prayers,
And lay them down in the sweet-smelling hay
Beside the wise men’s golden jars.

*Excerpts from “Epiphany Carol” by Thomas Merton

—Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS

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