Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?
--Ash Wednesday by T. S. Eliot
Eliot's question brings to mind this passage from chapter 18 of the Apocalypse:
And the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning; they will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,
‘Alas, alas, the great city,
Babylon, the mighty city!
For in one hour your judgement has come.’

And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo any more, cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves—and human lives.
‘The fruit for which your soul longed
has gone from you,
and all your dainties and your splendour
are lost to you,
never to be found again!’
The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud,
‘Alas, alas, the great city,
clothed in fine linen,
in purple and scarlet,
adorned with gold,
with jewels, and with pearls!
For in one hour all this wealth has been laid waste!’

And all shipmasters and seafarers, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning,
‘What city was like the great city?’
And they threw dust on their heads, as they wept and mourned, crying out,
‘Alas, alas, the great city,
where all who had ships at sea
grew rich by her wealth!
For in one hour she has been laid waste.’
I notice they do not seem to be lamenting their perished beloved but rather what she did for them: their commerce, their wealth, their power, their prestige.

Is not this something like "the usual reign," the domination systems we erect to protect ourselves, enrich ourselves, create defenses in the chaos of life? If it were all stripped away would we mourn? Would we throw dust on our heads and weep and cry out?

For all its superficial splendor and brute power, does it merit lamentation?

Their is another reign, you know. God's reign.

Jesus was obsessed with it, possessed by it, heralded it and demonstrated it in all he did.

And there is change. There is transformation. There is a turning, even if we do not dare hope for it.

Consider chapter 21 of that same Apocalypse:
I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practises abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Note the presence of the kings of the earth. Are not these the same "who committed fornication and lived in luxury with" that great whore, Babylon?

Now they bring their glory into the New Jerusalem.

We have moved from the earthly city of shame to the heavenly city of splendor.

And it is not their shame they bring to the new Jerusalem but THEIR glory.

What glory do these sinners have to bring to God's city? Evidently God thinks they have something to contribute. And the gates are not shut against them.

And so I have hope, though I often doubt that it is in me to turn again.

--the BB


author said...

Much food for thought. I've been trying to discern why some relationships don't feel right; you put your finger on it. It's about what I can do for some, and that's it. Thanks again, Paul

susankay said...

Thanks Paul -- I am finding the slow walk through Eliot helpful.