Sunday, 3 October 2010

Time and eternity

I continued my practice of lectio divina with Dry Salvages, the third poem in Eliot's Four Quartets. I have always liked the first section, which begins "The river is a strong brown god". This section seems to be about the immanence of the Divine in Nature, and the multiplicity of spirits of place. In the second stanza, the rhythms of the sea could be seen as a metaphor for the Divine in which we live, move and have our being.

I found the rest of Dry Salvages quite difficult. Eliot contrasts cyclical time and linear time with Christian ideas of eternity, and the eternal now. I like the idea of cyclical time, with its tides of sowing, growing, reaping and resting, its shifts from outwardness to inwardness. I also like the idea of the eternal now, but Eliot seems to regard both past and future as rather dreary (which they are in linear time), and to regard cyclical time as an endless repeating of the same old stuff. In my experience, cyclical time is the repetition of stages, but each stage has similar elements and different elements, so the combinations of experience are always new.

I did enjoy the descriptions of the eternal now: apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint—
No occupation either, but something given
And taken, in a lifetime's death in love,
Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.
For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses,
Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.
The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation.
Here the impossible union
Of spheres of existence is actual,
Here the past and future
Are conquered, and reconciled,
Where action were otherwise movement
Of that which is only moved
And has in it no source of movement

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