Let Everything Happen To You

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,

then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,

go to the limits of your longing.

Embody me.

Flare up like a flame

and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

Ranier Maria Rilke, Book of Hours, I 59

Translated by Joanna Macy

I’ve loved Rilke’s poetry for quite some time, but when I tossed a copy of this poem in my suitcase a few days before we flew to France, I had no idea how much it would come to mean to me. In reading it each day of the past three months, it has been a way of calling myself back to the essentials.

No poem can be “explained,” particularly an intimate poem like this one, but I thought I would share a few thoughts as to how these words have become meaningful for me. I would love to hear what else you see in this poem – what thoughts, longings, or questions does it spark in you?

___

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,

then walks with us silently out of the night.

In these lines we begin at the beginning: our lives, called forth out of nothingness by God, given to us as an extraordinary gift. So any true beginning must begin with gratitude.

I must remember, too, that our creation is still ongoing. For even when we do not hear His voice, he is our close and silent companion, walking beside and drawing us all into our truest selves.

If we are paying attention, we will receive much from recognizing the face of Christ in our brothers and sisters, that they too walk with Him silently “out of the night”.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,

go to the limits of your longing.

Let your longings speak to you: let them wake you up from the slumber of a nonchalant life. Pursue your longings to the limit and find God there. Let your hunger for Him gnaw inside you, attuning you to the mystery of communion in unlikely places.

There are days you will feel beyond your recall, beyond your ability and strengths. A whisper of desire will echo dimly in your ears as you try to remember why you began at all. Don’t try to find all the answers: first you are searching for the real question beneath it. What is it you are seeking?

Embody me.

Flare up like a flame

and make big shadows I can move in.

This is prayer, and this is true life: joining our lives to the Life of God. It is a life lived out in bodily, incarnate ways; a life meant to be multiplied and given, like a brilliant flame of light.

And even in the darkness, I must trust that He is working in the shadows. So much of what I do seems like a brief, bright flare in the midst of a long night. But what if all our work is really only the smokescreen for what God is doing in the world? What if we see only the back side of the curtain, and the real action is hidden from our sight? 

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Above all, resist the temptation to stay distant from your own and other’s pain. Let it happen to you, because if you allow the pain and the terror, you will also witness the Beauty. You will see how this death in you somehow leads to a fierce and tender sort of life. You will find something new being born within you. Don’t miss this invitation. Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness.

In other translations of this poem, “seriousness” can also be read as “intensity.” I read this line with two meanings: first, that life does have a meaning, a gravity to it, that we should not overlook or pass by. If we truly believe that each person we meet is made in the image of God, then we should take what happens to each other very, very seriously. 

And yet at the same time, we are also not God.  Life’s weighty-ness is not meant to make us serious people, unable to laugh or take joy in small, imperfect things. Life’s intensity is a gift as well – because this joy, this goodness, which first spilled out into the world from the richness of the Trinity, is the reason you and I were created.

Give me your hand, God says. And we do, and even in the darkness, our hearts are filled with light. 

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