Seven Sorrows, Seven Joys

Seven Sorrows, Seven Joys

– Father Johann G. Roten, S.M.

Sonnets in Meditation on Mary's Life

Art and Spirituality is a series of brief monographs published by The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute. Its purpose is to promote personal meditation. In general, each issue is based on a focal image of religious character, preferably with a Marian theme.

"Seven Sorrows, Seven joys: Sonnets in Meditation on Mary's Life" departs from this schema but pursues the same goal. In this second issue of Art and Spirituality both word and image are vehicles of meditation. They both illustrate the meaning of pondering, which is a spiritual form of moving the cradle to and fro. God's own Word is cradled in the heart of the believer. It begs to be rocked and rolled and cuddled to reveal its secrets and disclose the depth of its love. This is what artist and poet set out to achieve in this booklet. They represent two different voices singing the same tune, Mary's life. Following in the footsteps of Mary of Nazareth, the poet tries to intuit and recreate in sonnets filled with noble empathy the seven sorrows and seven joys of her pilgrimage of faith. The artist captures and frames the wealth of poetic imagery in weightless drawings, beckoning the reader to enter the mysteries of Mary. Though differing in artistic expression, the two artist-sisters are of one heart as they tell us, "Mary's human discipleship becomes ours, and ours becomes hers."

This booklet owes its existence to a God-human interest story. The story is about God, two sisters, call and response. God manifests his presence in one sister (the poet) as call, and in the other sister (the artist) as response. The result is a beautiful conversion story, pointing once more to the manifold ways of God's coming among us, ink drawings and sonnets included.


Audacious angel! How do you dare

to enter here without a knock, without

a warning whir of wings, without a sound

to signal, softly, somebody about?

This is a maiden's chamber after all.

Are you, a seraph, shadowless? Or could

you not have altered light and air to let

her untouched heart beware? Can this be good

to break into a space of grace? Intrude

so suddenly, with prophecy, on her

when her reserve, her insularity

is winter-warm and passionate and pure?

Perhaps you knew she'd answer bold and free:

"I am a virgin, sir. How can this be?"


Elizabeth, were you expecting her

to stand so bright, sun-circled, on the step?

Were you prepared by prophecy for that

great joy, the word at which the Baptist leapt?

Did you anticipate her haste? Were you

half-listening to hear her sweep the stone

with her quick steps? To hear her hail you, call

your name, magnificat in every tone?

Or did surprise surge up, a buoyancy,

elation like a bubble rainbow-run

that's spun with air in darkness, in the deepest

depth of soul, and surfaces in sun?

So jubilant was your humility:

"The Mother of my Lord has come - to me!"


Joseph - what could she tell him? How explain

the body budding in her flesh, the child

he knew was not his own? He stared at her.

His fingers formed a fist, and something wild

took hold of him and seized upon his soul.

He struggled for control; he looked and left

and Mary lingered at the door; a weight

below her waist and on her heart, bereft

of all support but God's. What could she do

but trust in Him to be her Advocate?

Inviolate, a virgin still, her Son

all Spirit-sprung, what could she do but wait

for Him to send an angel in the night,

while Joseph slept, and set his thoughts aright?


Angelic odyssey! That fabled flight

across a universe expanding, star

by star, through jeweled space and shining night,

from Heaven's height to hills of Bethlehem,

where angels mounted moon-lit on the air

and met to form a constellation new,

a crown of light, resplendent, rich and rare,

suspended high above the lifted heads

of shepherds startled into fear and awe,

who trembled at the tidings that they heard

and marvelled at the symmetry they saw:

a diadem for David in the sky,

a vision pointing to a greater sign:

the Virgin Mother with her Child Divine.



Old Simeon! What drew you there that day?

What whisper wakened longing in your soul?

What impulse roused you, gave new life to your

unsteady limbs? And what imagined goal,

what sweet desired dream could seem within

the grasp of gnarled hands and ancient arms

like yours? What vision or what unheard voice

impelled your coming? Haste like this alarms

and certainty in seers like you is hard

to beat: This energy, this seizing Him,

this speaking of His destiny, this fit

of flowing tears in eyes both bright and dim -

it all electrified. The crowd was stirred.

And Mary listened, and her whole heart heard!


Must you awaken Mary now, at night,

when she is deep in dreams and her small Son

asleep beside her? Must you disturb

so sweet a slumber? Breathing two as one,

her slender arm, still soft with sleep, is wrapped

about the babe, and his dark hair is damp

against her skin. Must innocence like this

be ended? Must you shine the warning lamp

across her gentle face? If Herod's set

upon the infant's death, then she must know,

take flight for Egypt, exile, yet tonight.

May she find strength to act and pack and go

to calm her baby, keep her own heart still,

and hear the wasteland whisper of God's will.




Can this extraordinary etiquette

be God's? To grieve you, leave you, stay behind

without a word to ease your mind, to let

you know where He would be? Can this be kind?

Or does some strange uncommon courtesy

direct this deed that leads you to the throne

of God? Jesus teaching in the Temple!

Such firmness, self-assurance in His tone

as if He'd known, anticipated all

anxiety, and planned your pain to spare

you worse! What could you do, endure, or dare,

what burden bear, if He did not prepare

you through this separation, triple loss,

these three sad days foreshadowing the cross?



Reproduced with permission of Sister Ann Astell

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