Saturday, September 21, 2013

From the Great Deep to the Great Deep He Goes

T   hen loudly cried the bold Sir Bedivere:
"Ah! my Lord Arthur, whither shall I go?
Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?
For now I see the true old times are dead,
When every morning brought a noble chance,
And every chance brought out a noble knight.
Such times have been not since the light that led
The holy Elders with the gift of myrrh.
But now the whole Round Table is dissolved
Which was an image of the mighty world,
And I, the last, go forth companionless,
And the days darken round me, and the years,
Among new men, strange faces, other minds."

       And slowly answer'd Arthur from the barge:
"The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me?
I have lived my life, and that which I have done
May He within himself make pure! but thou,
If thou shouldst never see my face again,
Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.
But now farewell. I am going a long way
With these thou seëst—if indeed I go
(For all my mind is clouded with a doubt)—
To the island-valley of Avilion;
Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
Deep-meadow'd, happy, fair with orchard lawns
And bowery hollows crown'd with summer sea,
Where I will heal me of my grievous wound."

       So said he, and the barge with oar and sail
Moved from the brink, like some full-breasted swan
That, fluting a wild carol ere her death,
Ruffles her pure cold plume, and takes the flood
With swarthy webs. Long stood Sir Bedivere
Revolving many memories, till the hull
Look'd one black dot against the verge of dawn,
And on the mere the wailing died away.

       But when that moan had past for evermore,
The stillness of the dead world's winter dawn
Amazed him, and he groan'd, The King is gone.''
And therewithal came on him the weird rhyme,
"From the great deep to the great deep he goes."

       Whereat he slowly turn'd and slowly clomb
The last hard footstep of that iron crag;
Thence mark'd the black hull moving yet, and cried,
"He passes to be King among the dead,
And after healing of his grievous wound
He comes again; but—if he come no more—
O me, be yon dark Queens in yon black boat,
Who shriek'd and wail'd, the three whereat we gazed
On that high day, when, clothed with living light,
They stood before his throne in silence, friends
Of Arthur, who should help him at his need?"

       Then from the dawn it seem'd there came, but faint
As from beyond the limit of the world,
Like the last echo born of a great cry,
Sounds, as if some fair city were one voice
Around a king returning from his wars.

       Thereat once more he moved about, and clomb
Ev'n to the highest he could climb, and saw,
Straining his eyes beneath an arch of hand,
Or thought he saw, the speck that bare the King,
Down that long water opening on the deep
Somewhere far off, pass on and on, and go
From less to less and vanish into light.
And the new sun rose bringing the new year.

~ Idylls of the King: The Passing of Arthur, Alfred, Lord Tennyson

    Were I to stumble on this blog post, I would most likely do little more than pass a cursory glance at the above text.  At first glance, it seems to be a mass of words, written in an old-fashioned style, about a mythical person, seemingly without any relevance to my own life.  We're busy.  We're bombarded by text.  Articles bookmarked on the internet to revisited at a future date when we have a few moments to truly go in deep (but do we ever return?).  An email from a friend that we put a star next to their name so that we remember to respond when life slows down for a minute (but how many days and weeks go by before that happens?).

   Stop now and read the poetry above, slowly, line by line.  It's beautiful, no?  Who cannot identify with Sir Bedivere, who has seemingly lost his last friend in the world that that enemy that waits in the wings to triumph over us all, Death?  He cries "Whither shall I go?" to his dying friend.  What will I be without you?  Arthur replies, "The old order changeth, yielding place to new."  The old order changes, but it will be replaced by the new.  I am going, but there will be more in this life to comfort you.  Arthur asks his friend to pray for his soul, "More things are wrought with prayer than this world dreams of."  And then, Arthur goes "from less to less and vanish(es) into light."  But it doesn't end there.  The last line gives us hope: "And the new sun rose bringing the new year." 

   Tonight I am grieving.  I am posting this in memorial of a friend who passed away on September 4th, 2013.  His service was today, and I was unable to attend, being halfway around the world.  I was with him the hour he passed from this world unto the next, and I wish I could have been there today to remember him and say goodbye.  As my favorite poet writes, "Every man is a piece of the continent,/ A part of the main./ If a clod be washed away by the sea,/ Europe is the less."  I am, in short, diminished by this man's death.

   Dear Peter, these are words that should be said in life, not death.  You were precious, and wonderful, and loved.  I hate my fallible human memory, as even now, my memories of you begin to grow faint.  You were always a joyous sight to behold; even in death you clung to life with vivacity and life and wit.  The last time I saw you in the hospital, I wanted to kiss you on your worn cheek, as we had always done, but my nerve failed me, and for that I will be forever regretful.  Stupid words, but thank you for your friendship.  Thank you for always being ready with a compliment.  Thank you for the way you endeared yourself to your students.  Thank you for telling me I was beautiful and sharing the moments of your life with me.  Thank you for your songs.  Thank you for dancing with me and seeing my worth.  You are truly a precious being, created in the image of the Living God.  I love you now and will always love you.  Cursed be this memory that will erase, but my heart will always remember.

You will always be remembered.  Go gentle into the night, dear Welshman.  May the good Lord protect you and keep you.  Amen.

Monday, September 2, 2013

There is legitimate guilt that is removed through repentance and restitution, and there is irremediable guilt.  When people say, "I know God forgives me, but I can't forgive myself," they mean that they have failed an idol, whose approval is more important to them than God's.  Idols function like gods in our lives, and so if we make career or parental approval our god and we fail it, then the idol curses us in our hearts for the rest of our lives.  We can't shake the sense of failure.

~Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, p. 149