If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.
O my people, what have I done unto thee.
--T. S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday
Eliot takes us now to the prologue of the Fourth Gospel. At the heart of Eliot's conversion (the occasion of this poem) and of the pilgrimage of this poem lies the Word, the Logos/Λογος, the self-expression of God that is beyond all speech and which speaks all things into being.
And God said, Let there be light. And there was light.
Without him was not anything made that was made.
Heard or unheard, it nonetheless lies at the heart of creation and gives itself for the sake of creation.
The bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
This Word has pitched his tent among us (εσκηνωσεν εν ημιν), taking on flesh of our flesh (ο λογος σαρξ εγενετο), uniting creation to himself forever.
All creation centers on this Word, the cosmos whirling and dancing about the still center.
And how do we respond to the center of our being?
O my people, what have I done unto thee? is the question raised by the prophet Micah and forms the refrain of the Improperia, the Reproaches that are part of the Latin Rite for Good Friday. The Blue Book, trial usage that preceded the 1979 BCP, experimented with restoring them to the Episcopal Church but they did not make it into the BCP. It is easy to use them as a basis for Antisemitism. In fact, the first link I clicked on had an unpleasant comment along those lines. The point of the Reproaches, however, is to confront US with our hard-hearted responses to God's goodness.
Do we respond to God's eternal Yes with a resounding No?
Sadly, yes, we do.
There is still grace, and grace upon grace, but we need to face the reality of our unmindfulness, ingratitude, and frenzied efforts to have life and the universe on our own terms. Eliot thrusts this echo of the Reproaches into this litany of the Word to shock us back to mindfulness.
May we be mindful of the Word, the true Word by which all things exist, the eloquent, silent Word at the core of our being... and listen.