December 19: O Radix Jesse

O radix Iesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare. 

O Root of Jesse, who stands as a sign for the people, before whom rulers will keep silent (but) to whom the people will cry out: come to free us, delay no longer.

O God of all generations, 

divine life hidden deep within all ancestral roots, 

how I long for you! 

From the depth of barrenness 

you suddenly call forth new flowering, 

a sign of life for all. 

Human power is nothing in your presence. 

Come, life-giver, 

free us to flourish, 

come now. 

December 19, and six more shopping days until Christmas. Today’s O-Antiphon calls forth God’s creative power— new life and promise out of the root of an ancient tree. Bed Bath & Beyond advertises a Bamboo Wall Shelf Set, “designed to simulate a lucky garden” and to give any room “instant style.” The set includes “four faux bamboo stalks and a bag of polished river stones.” Here is a moment where the O-Antiphon can easily triumph over the cultural production of desire for the day. There is no way “faux bamboo stalks” can be any match for the radical vision of the prophet Isaiah which is at the heart of today’s O-Antiphon: “A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of its roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. … On that day, the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.” (Isa 11:1f,10 NRSV).

Pondering Isaiah’s promise, I suddenly realize that I do have a set of two little bamboo stalks (real ones, fortunately), an unexpected gift, on an otherwise very ordinary day. I take pleasure in these stalks and their shoots. Thus, although the Bed Bath & Beyond offer of a faux Bamboo Wall Shelf Set evokes scorn when juxtaposed with the “Root of Jesse,” the meaning of these bamboo stalks is by no means stable. They can, after all, become a sign of a generous giving of self. I cannot so easily dismiss them.

There are four more O-Antiphons and five more shopping days to ponder the complex relationship between real and faux, O-Antiphons and the cultural productions of desire.

O Radix copy

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