Because I know that time is always timeI doubt that Eliot could be anything but Anglo-Catholic, writing as he does.
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice
And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us
--T. S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday
The incarnational specificity one encounters in words such as "what is actual is actual only for one time/ And only for one place" echoes, for me, the occasional and specific nature of Anglican theology. We are not known for great generalities and systematic thinking but for bringing all our resources to bear on a specific question, a particular instance, a pastoral issue that is anything but abstract. We want to talk about real lives, not eternal principles, though we are eager to know what eternal principles have to do with real lives. We prefer "both/and" but, when forced to choose, tend to go with real lives.
We care more about our endangered siblings in Uganda than we do about discussions of "norms."
I remember my high school biology teacher, Mr. Moore, who on weekends taught Sunday school in a Methodist church, trying to get us past a concept of biological ideals. When I studied zoology with him he told us that one does not take a murine specimen and ask: "Is this mouse correct?" It simply is, and your concepts of "mouseness" must take it into account. There is no abstract mouse (pace Plato), only specific mice from which we must make generalizations.
Back to Eliot:
There is a sense of acceptance when he writes "I rejoice that things are as they are" and I love that phrase but the line does not end there. We have the "and" hanging at the end of the line, much as γαρ hangs at the end of the final verse of Mark's Gospel. [Those who do not wrestle with the Greek text of the NT may ignore that reference.]
"...[A]nd/ I renounce the blessèd face/ And renounce the voice...."
Eliot is not ready to respond, to have his encounter with the divine (or its channels). This is a poem written after his own conversion and it describes a process and a transformation. It is about turning, about metanoia, though it begins with no hope of turning. The speaker in the poem rejoices in "having to construct something/ Upon which to rejoice." He has chosen to rely on his own resources, in spite of not hoping to turn again. A bravura posture? Making the best of something already named as hopeless?
"And pray to Got to have mercy upon us...."
There is the plea for that which we cannot create from within ourselves alone.
In that is hope.
Note: someone else shares thoughts on this poem. I commend Matt's undergraduate paper found here.