Friday, February 19, 2010

Where all loves end

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.
--T. S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday
I love the juxtaposition of contraries. It is an ancient rhetorical device, and an honorable one. It brings to mind Mme Virginia Crosby who taught French at Pomona College. In a course on French Renaissance Literature she started the semester by saying that one definition of art was a frame to contain contradictions. I liked that definition then and I like it now. That is certainly not all that can or should be said about what art is or is not, but it captures at least one great truth.

The most striking example in the Bible may well be Isaiah 45:7. In the Authorized Version (KJV) it reads thus: "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things." Later translations water this down into "weal and woe" but the word for evil means exactly that. It is possibly the most ambitiously monotheistic verse in the Bible. What we deem evil is also God's work. What other logical source can you posit?

Here it is in the Hebrew:
יֹוצֵ֥ר אֹור֙ וּבֹורֵ֣א חֹ֔שֶׁךְ עֹשֶׂ֥ה שָׁלֹ֖ום וּבֹ֣ורֵא רָ֑ע אֲנִ֥י יְהוָ֖ה עֹשֶׂ֥ה כָל־אֵֽלֶּה׃

Well, I do not intend to wrestle here with theodicy, but you can see that juxtaposition of contraries has an honorable heritage.

Orthodox liturgies revel in combining images that are seemingly contradictory. The Feast of the Theophany, for instance, refers repeatedly to fire going down into the water and the Romanos the Melodist builds his hymnody on the approach of the Unapproachable Light. The climax of the narrative in the Orthodox celebration is the moment when John the Forerunner, a mortal creature, does the unthinkable and touches the Creator in the flesh. The entire mystery of Incarnation is manifest and the ability of God to make happen what we declare cannot happen.

The Lady, the Rose, the Garden all participate in contradiction. If they did not, they would be inadequate to express totality.

This is mostly a problem for us children of the West. We are raised on either/or instead of on yin AND yang. We deem opposites to be mutually exclusive instead of complementary. Even the symbol of yin and yang calls this into question for in each half is found the seed of the other half, that small dot of the opposite shade.

Whether love is unsatisfied or satisfied (and that is the greater torment if it leaves us both sated and wanting, needing more), the speaker knows he can go no further. This is "where all loves end."

There he encounters "Speech without word and/ Word of no speech," the Logos that transcends all speaking yet is the expression by which and in which all things come into being. This Word, that communicates God's gracious will and saving power, is the end, the τελος, of love: its fulfillment.

Where life and love fail, there is the unexpected grace.
Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other,
Under a tree in the cool of day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.
"And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance."

Yin and Yang in constantly shifting relationship, always in dynamic balance, together constitute the whole, the Tao. There is neither division nor unity. (Echoes of the Chalcedonian definition!)

Beyond hope, beyond death, there is an inheritance. And we shall come into it.

--the BB

1 comment:

Fran said...

Ah, Eliot. I have spent some time with these words myself this week, but I did not post them.

And I will spend time with the "Lady of Silences," from our community, KLady, Kathy Jensen. Seeing your opening line made me remember gratefully how enriched my life is because of all of you.