Audio Poem: Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Neighbor God”

In a small red purse in my bag, I keep a prayer card of the Holy Face.

Holy Face Prayer CardI’ve carried it with me for over a year now. Whenever I look at it, it pulls me down out of vanity, into the earth, into the darkness of the tomb where Christ’s body awaits the dawn and the rolling of the stone.

It pulls me into Holy Saturday, the very evening before everything would change, and death would never be the same.

It draws me in, and it calls me to wait in peace.

For a long time, now, I’ve felt I was in a waiting room. One dream ended — another not yet begun. In the space between, I’ve been trying to pray the way I used to, but it feels empty. Dry. As if I’m talking to the air, where I used to talk to a Person.

In short, the “feelings” are gone. I’m in a place of uncertainty about what exactly I believe, where I’m going, and what my Beloved’s dreams are for me.

Are you there? Do you know what I mean?

Despite how it feels, this is a blessed time. It’s an opportunity, for the tomb is a place of deep faith and intimacy. Most don’t want to follow Christ there. If you recall, no one stood at the tomb but the guards. It was only the next morning when the women came to find the body gone.

If you’re there, in that Saturday twilight …

It is a privilege to be where you are, with God in the darkness. It is a privilege to sit with him in silence and look upon his Holy Face.

One of my favorite poets, I believe, would understand.

A Light from “The Book of Hours”

The poet is Rainer Maria Rilke, and the poem I bring you today comes from Das Stunden-Buch, or “The Book of Hours,” a collection of sublime poems as gentle, yet stark and luminous as votive candles. This is one of my favorite collections, perhaps because of the spiritual themes, or because it was inspired by Rilke’s travels in Russia.

This specific poem covers conversation with God through night, thirst, and silence.

While it’s true he wrote it for a pantheistic God, rather than for Christ, his sentiments nonetheless suit the Christian contemplative experience. Perhaps you, in your blessed twilight, would find some resonance in it.

Here it is, in the original German and my sad translation:

Das Buch vom mönchischen Leben I,6

Du, Nachbar Gott, wenn ich dich manchesmal
in langer Nacht mit hartem Klopfen störe, —
so ists, weil ich dich selten atmen höre
und weiß: Du bist allein im Saal.
Und wenn du etwas brauchst, ist keiner da,
um deinem Tasten einen Trank zu reichen:
Ich horche immer. Gieb ein kleines Zeichen.
Ich bin ganz nah.

Nur eine schmale Wand ist zwischen uns,
durch Zufall; denn es könnte sein:
ein Rufen deines oder meines Munds —
und sie bricht ein
ganz ohne Lärm und Laut …

The Book of a Monastic Life I,6

My neighbor God — if sometimes I disturb you
in the long night with a heavy knock,
it’s because I hear you breathe so seldom
and I know: You’re alone in that room.
When you need someone, no one is there
to hand you a cup of water.
I’m always listening. Only give a little sign;
I’m right here.

It’s a thin wall between us,
as it happens; so perhaps
a single cry from your mouth or mine
would collapse it
without a sound.

Listen to that again.

There is Christ alone in the tabernacle — there is God silent in the darkness, waiting for you. There you are, in the next room, unable to hear anything but an occasional “breath” of his presence as you wait for him to speak.

This is Holy Saturday. This is the mysterious space between, when the tomb is not yet empty, yet the day is about to break. You know it. You’re waiting for it.

This is a call to greater silence, to deeper listening. Remind your soul, “Ich horche immer” — I’m always listening. Watch the thin wall. Wait for his voice; wait for the break of day as the stone rolls back.

The tomb of the Holy Face is a blessed place to be.

Are you there?

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