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This Advent, Ignatian writers from across the Jesuit Conference are sharing 25 days of reflections on Ignatian heroes. You can receive these reflections directly in your inbox by signing up here.

Day 4: Denise Levertov

By Fr. Radmar Jao, SJ

I was introduced to Denise Levertov (1923-1997) during my philosophy studies in Chicago. I was helping a brother scholastic lead an Ignatian silent retreat for a group of middle school teachers, and he shared this poem as an opening prayer:

As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.

It’s called “The Avowal” and it left such an impact on me that I immediately committed it to memory. It has since become my go-to poem for retreats and homilies where the idea of “letting go” is a common theme.

In her foreword to her book “The Stream & The Sapphire: Selected Poems on Religious Themes,” Levertov writes that the poems she chose to include, of which “The Avowal” is one, “trace [her] own slow movement from agnosticism to Christian faith[1], a movement incorporating much of doubt and questioning as well as of affirmation.”[2] And that in writing these poems she “entered as deeply as [she] could into crucial events of the New Testament…much like what Ignatius of Loyola recommended in the ‘Exercises.’”[3] No wonder the imagery in the poem is so palpable and the sentiment of submitting oneself to the “deep embrace” of God hits you like a ton of bricks: “… no effort earns that all surrounding grace.”

Every Advent season, the church invites us to prepare for the coming of Emmanuel, “God with us” — with us in our doubts, insecurities and fears; with us in our joys, successes and consolations; with us freely, indiscriminately and unconditionally.

Reflection: What is the Lord inviting you to finally let go of this Advent season to enter more deeply into the mystery of the Incarnation? What if, like a swimmer or a hawk, you finally relinquish control and free fall into the deep embrace of God who is gently whispering to your heart: “I’m here. Trust me. I love you.”

[1] She comes from a Jewish, German, Welsh and English background and became a Christian at the age of 60 and converted to Catholicism at 66.
[2]Levertov, Denise. “Foreword.” The Stream & the Sapphire Selected Poems on Religious Themes, New Directions, New York, 1997, p. vii
[3] ibid

Fr. Radmar Jao, SJ, is the director of vocations for the USA West Province. He is originally from Valparaiso, Indiana and a graduate of Indiana University. He was an award winning actor in Los Angeles, appearing on film, TV and stage before entering the Jesuits in 2001. Fr. Radmar now uses his acting skills to witness to his faith and calling as a Jesuit priest. He is a seasoned spiritual director who is passionate about Ignatian spirituality and ministering to young adults in their 20s and 30s, especially with Christus Ministries. Fr. Radmar recently completed the final stage of Jesuit formation called tertianship in Salamanca, Spain. During his free time, he enjoys CrossFit, hiking, cooking, baking, watching movies, good conversations and people who make him laugh.




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