Peter Paul Rubens, The Nativity of Christ, from the Missale Romanum, 1616, Engraving on laid paper, Hill Museum & Manuscript Library
I will go to the barn in Bethlehem;
there, the beautiful baby lies in the trough the animals
share with him. Looking on with welcoming eyes
they receive the Little One as next-of-kin,
awake, unafraid his face aglow – he wiggles his toes
in the joy of being born, and the donkey is alert
to good news for the lowly, forlorn, forgotten
folk, all creatures trusting in God’s care for them.
I will go to the barn in Bethlehem,
where a slain bird not far from the baby’s bed
strangely hints to the ox resting alongside on the floor
an aura of the mystery of sacrament.
Young Mary’s bright face shows no alarm, no fear,
for over earth’s breast, heaven’s wings are bent,
and high in the loft, cherub-angels proclaim in song
as holy Light streams on a shepherd’s head.
I will go to the barn in Bethlehem
where a spider web torn by time clings in space
to a wooden beam of God’s architecture
of beauty within a lowly place where the donkey sees
and the ox apprehends as if to attest,
and mind hears the music of joy’s adoration:
the thunder of angels’ wings; the celestial sound
of the silence of rest.
O magnum mysterium, great mystery in the Bethlehem barn:
the infant Christ lies swaddled in a manger trough:
Love incarnate – beauty of hope’s fulfillment
here, now, as on the First Day, as in the beginning, again
O magnum mysterium, great mystery – holy refrain
The inspiration for my poem meditation on Place comes from an article by Dr. Martin F. Connell (professor of theology at St. John’s University), “The Great Mystery of Christmas,” which appeared in the Winter 2021-22 Abbey Banner (volume 21, number 3), published by the monks of St. John’s Abbey. Copyright 2021 by Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota.
The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library in Collegeville, Minnesota, part of Saint John’s University preserves handwritten history by digitizing endangered manuscripts from different cultures, religions, and regions. Feel free to explore the amazing work the HMML does at: https://hmml.org/.