The Fifth Day of Christmas: Towards the Threshold
The season of Advent has a clear line of movement across the Sundays to Christmas, but there seems no easy flow of the 12 Days of Christmas. There are saints’ days (St. Stephen, Dec 26; St. John, Dec 27; St Sylvester, Dec 31, etc.) and the 13th day is Epiphany, when in Western traditions the Wise Men arrive, and in Eastern traditions, the baptism of Jesus is celebrated.
So we have created our own movements: The first was an inward walking, beginning at Christmas Eve’s lonely road, moving to Mary’s song on Christmas day, followed by a reflection on the virgin heart, sitting in contemplation in your cell, and walking inwardly. Today we continue that movement, with a reflection on Rumi's Guest House, which also leads us to the threshold of the new year. From there, we will journey with the wise men and other sages toward Epiphany.
Are you still with us, dear pilgrim? We have been doing some difficult work, with what seems like nigh-impossible goals: to cultivate a virgin heart, to sit in perfect silence, to reach that inner room where God meets us. Even under the best of conditions, it would be easy to lose heart. Even in a quiet room, with a candle for focus, and time for concentration, the thoughts keep intruding, insistent: undone tasks, unchecked lists, repressed sorrows, old embarrassments, new fears. We are imperfect pilgrims.
What shall we do with these unwelcome thoughts? These distractions from purity of heart? First, we might remember the advice given in the book of Hebrews: "Do not neglect hospitality to strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." We met these strangers in the meditation for the fourth day of Christmas, fearful things we left at the door. Another fellow traveler, the Sufi Muslim poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī has offered similar advice in a poem usually titled The Guest House:
This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī
How might our distractions, these unwanted intrusions, our imperfections, be guides from the beyond? In part, because they tell us where we are. They might be upsetting the furniture in our idealized inner rooms, but that is because, says Rumi, we have not treated them honorably, met them at the door laughing, met them with a detached, loving, heart.
And so the good news is that God meets us where we are. The distracting thoughts are, themselves, the guides from the beyond. They are, themselves, God meeting us where we are, in mercy. We must learn how to welcome them with a detached, loving heart. And for this difficult task, may you have mercy with yourself.