Monday, November 14, 2011

Love's Austere and Lonely Offices

Last night I went to a party at Serena's house. It was a "Culture and Communio" party, so everyone brought food to share, and after that we read poetry aloud. Almost everyone brought a poem (or three) and as there were several dozen people there it took a while to get through them all. We even had an intermission halfway through, during which I snagged some mulled wine. Yum!

Me and Serena
I was introduced to some truly lovely new poems and to great poets I'd never heard of before. I also enjoyed appearances from a few poems that are old friends. One really stood out to me this time - Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays."

"What did I know, what did I know," the speaker asks, "of love’s austere and lonely offices?"

Austere and lonely? What kind of love is this? Isn't love supposed to be warm, effusive, expressive and emotional?

Yes, I know that "Love is a choice," as I was told many times growing up. But what does it mean, this "Love is a choice" business? There was a time when, in my immaturity, I thought it meant choosing to date someone I didn't love just so I could make him happy. Although now I know that's not right, I'm still not sure I understand it. What do I know, myself, of Love's austere and lonely offices?

I spend a lot of time, these days, thinking about preparing for my future. I'm not sure yet what God is calling me to.

Perhaps I will be a religious sister. Perhaps I will enter a convent, take the veil and live a life of service to the Church.

Perhaps I will be a wife and mother. Perhaps I will unite with one man for life, wear a white dress and veil for one day, and live a life of service to a family.

What will those vocations demand of me? Either way, Love will call me to austere and lonely offices. Love will demand hard things of me.

And I, so fickle, impulsive and headstrong? How will I be ready when Love calls? Do I have the strength of character to fulfill offices of love, however harsh and lonely?

I hope so, although I won't really know until I'm there. Ultimately, though, it doesn't matter if I can do it or not, whether I'm strong enough and good enough or not.

I already know I'm not. Nobody is. That's what grace is for.

I know that I can start to prepare in little ways for the hard things I will someday face. Very little ways, but worth doing.

And here is the thing Hayden forgot to mention. Perhaps he didn't know. Fulfilling those offices, however austere and lonely, brings the deepest, the truest and the most lasting joy.


  1. Great post, Tess, and some wonderful insights. At some point--don't exactly remember when-- that poem was part of some English course that I taught. I really like it because it reminded me of the fact that as children we so often missed the little everyday tasks that our parents did that frequently went unappreciated and yet which spoke of their love. I like to think that some of the little things that each of us does for others will, in some way, reflect our love and commitment.

    I know that you started this second blog but somehow I missed what it is your doing in DC.

  2. Sister, thank you for your thoughtful comment! It is such a lovely poem. I'm glad you had a chance to teach it.

    I'm working as a journalist at a political magazine here in DC. After you commented, I updated my About Me to explain this, too. :)