We offer this reflection from Tagore as a contrast to Frank Thompson’s poem of two days ago. He urged his beloved to forget him, Tagore insists on the sweet sorrow of parting, as a foretaste of death: parting and death do hurt, they cut through the false pride that Thompson accused himself of.
War always brings parting and death, realities that Romantics like Thompson and Brooke minimised, at least before seeing combat.
ON BOARD A CANAL STEAMER GOING TO CUTTACK, August 1891
The quiet floating away of a boat on the stream seems to add to the pathos of a separation—it is so like death—the departing one lost to sight, those left behind returning to their daily life, wiping their eyes. True, the pang lasts but a while, and is perhaps already wearing off both in those who have gone and those who remain,—pain being temporary, oblivion permanent.
But none the less it is not the forgetting, but the pain which is true; and every now and then, in separation or in death, we realise how terribly true.
Glimpses of Bengal Selected from the Letters of Sir Rabindranath Tagore.
I can recall my heart leaping when we drove through an area of the Scottish borders where I had spent a year as a teenager. That visitation was unplanned and quite unexpected, our route had been determined by the morning traffic in Edinburgh. Wordsworth came to his old haunts, distressed with a burden of sad anticipation. But he like me, was surprised by joy.
It had not been the happiest year of my life but it was in the beautiful Tweed Valley, beauty that resonated with my adult self decades later, all unexpectedly. A moment to be grateful for. Now here’s Wordsworth.
“Beloved Vale!” I said, “when I shall con Those many records of my childish years, Remembrance of myself and of my peers Will press me down: to think of what is gone Will be an awful thought, if life have one.” But, when into the Vale I came, no fears Distress’d me; I look’d round, I shed no tears; Deep thought, or awful vision, I had none. By thousand petty fancies I was cross’d, To see the Trees, which I had thought so tall, Mere dwarfs; the Brooks so narrow, Fields so small. A Juggler’s Balls old Time about him toss’d; I looked, I stared, I smiled, I laughed; and all The weight of sadness was in wonder lost. From “Poems in Two Volumes, Volume 1” by William Wordsworth)
We have not all sailed through the pandemic without hurt, illness and loss. These words from Fr Brian D’Arcy offer a chance to reflect on our recent experience and on what comes next in our lives, the decisions we are making day by day.
Time is a non-renewable resource; so, we should spend it wisely by keeping life in a proper perspective. It means making choices about what is essential and what is not.
Covid gave many of us a renewed sense of our own mortality. It made the possibility of death undeniable. It is one of the contradictions of our culture that we do everything in our power to deny our own mortality; yet by denying death we actually give it increased power over us.
As we continue to integrate the lessons Covid taught us, we’ll acknowledge our mortality in wise and healthy ways. We need to give death its rightful place – and there’s nothing morbid about that. It helps us to be aware of how fleeting life is. It makes us more grateful every day for the precious time we have and it makes me humbler about the things I might have achieved. Since I now know my life is brief I ought to reflect long and hard on what I do with it. How I spend my hours determines how I spend my days and how I spend my days is how I spend my life.
So let us reflect together in prayer:
Lord, help me to use the gift of time wisely. “What is life?” St James asks, “For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:15). Guide me to spend less time on social media and more time seeking your truth; less time chasing success and more time seeking your peace.
May I see each day as a special gift from you. I do not know what tomorrow will bring but with your help and guidance, I will become humbler, gentler and more compassionate. Hear and answer this prayer Lord, in your own time. AMEN
We at Agnellus Mirror do not claim to agree totally with everything we publish, but we hope that somebody out there finds it interesting. We questioned, no, disagreed with Tagore at the beginning of the month, and today we find him interesting but writing from a privileged point of view. Perhaps we should, each of us, stand outside the current of time, occasionally. But who stands beside us and shares our inner world? We offer a response to Tagore at the end of the post. What are your feelings?
SHELIDAH, 24th June 1894.
I have been only four days here, but, having lost count of the hours, it seems such a long while, I feel that if I were to return to Calcutta to-day I should find much of it changed—as if I alone had been standing still outside the current of time, unconscious of the gradually changing position of the rest of the world. The fact is that here, away from Calcutta, I live in my own inner world, where the clocks do not keep ordinary time; where duration is measured only by the intensity of the feelings; where, as the outside world does not count the minutes, moments change into hours and hours into moments. So it seems to me that the subdivisions of time and space are only mental illusions. Every atom is immeasurable and every moment infinite.
There is a Persian story which I was greatly taken with when I read it as a boy—I think I understood, even then, something of the underlying idea, though I was a mere child. To show the illusory character of time, a faquir put some magic water into a tub and asked the King to take a dip. The King no sooner dipped his head in than he found himself in a strange country by the sea, where he spent a good long time going through a variety of happenings and doings. He married, had children, his wife and children died, he lost all his wealth, and as he writhed under his sufferings he suddenly found himself back in the room, surrounded by his courtiers. On his proceeding to revile the faquir for his misfortunes, they said: “But, Sire, you have only just dipped your head in, and raised it out of the water!”
The whole of our life with its pleasures and pains is in the same way enclosed in one moment of time. However long or intense we may feel it to be while it lasts, as soon as we have finished our dip in the tub of the world, we shall find how like a slight, momentary dream the whole thing has been.
Glimpses of Bengal Selected from the Letters of Sir Rabindranath Tagore
We are not simply writhing under our sufferings in this life, dipping into the rub of the world. Eighty years of life are indeed as nothing compared to the light years of the Universe’s existence, but they are years of responsibility to each other, to creation, and to the Creator.
Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in: naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me.
Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and covered thee? Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee?
And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.
Yesterday we advocated butterfly’s days: no set agenda, no targets, no business, no busy-ness. Today we open the Book of Common Prayer to read a collect that is complementary to Emily Dickinson’s poem ‘The Butterfly’s Day’. It makes explicit that we are passing through this life, and need God’s guidance and rule to survive passing through things temporal, but we can keep a hold on things eternal with Our Father’s mercy.
Our picture from Saint David’s Cathedral invites us to be still – Emily might say ‘idle’. And knowing that Our Father is God will follow; we will be given a hold on things eternal
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that with you as our ruler and guide we may so pass through things temporal that we lose not our hold on things eternal; grant this, heavenly Father, for our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
I have to say that by no means all of Emily Dickinson’s verse speaks to me; this deceptively simple poem does, though I’m reluctant to analyse it too much and lose it. But ‘docile as a boy’? Sometimes a boy is docile and easily led and the sea can be docile, sometimes. ‘Along appointed sands’, as here in Margate, seen from another poet’s perch, the shelter where Eliot wrote. ‘Obedient to the least command’ does not sound like a statement of fact, more a statement of intent: from a storm-tossed Kent, I pray that the Good Shepherd will lead us beside quiet waters this year of Our Lord 2021.
The moon is distant from the sea, And yet with amber hands She leads him, docile as a boy, Along appointed sands.
He never misses a degree; Obedient to her eye, He comes just so far toward the town, Just so far goes away.
Oh, Signor, thine the amber hand, And mine the distant sea, — Obedient to the least command Thine eyes impose on me.”
Series 2, Love XIII from Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete
Scraps of conversation heard in passing can be instructive.
the students are back in town. I’ve no reason to believe these two young women are representative of anyone but themselves: ‘Yes, but we need to get our drinking in before we go out’.
The electric invalid buggy was parked at a sharp angle because the rider was taking a call on his phone: ‘I’m not that good a grandad. But it’s good to hear your voice, thanks for ringing, much appreciated, thank you, Good bye.’
A widowed neighbour, after a friend had helped with advice: ‘Thank you for taking time to help me. I do appreciate that. It means a lot.’
We are looking at the Jesus-Pilate dialogue occurring towards the end of the Gospel of John (John 18:28f.) in order to explore what it may tell us about Jesus’ kingship. Pilate is clueless about Jesus and his teaching, but as the situation progresses, some important aspects of Jesus’ person and identity gradually, if incompletely, come home to Pilate. Perhaps by watching this process, we may discover something new about Jesus, also.
The dialogue has barely begun, but Pilate has already exposed his impatience with the entire affair – a fact which in itself was insulting, and must have registered as such with Jesus. Pilate asks Jesus bluntly, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’
We have noted above that Pilate, as governor of Judea, acted as a supreme judge in his district. Therefore he alone had the authority to impose the death sentence, which is what the Jewish leaders who handed Jesus over want Pilate to do. Jesus’ arrest and trial so far have gone on all night and it is now morning. Jesus must be exhausted, but his response to Pilate’s question is not in the least expressive of the mental derangement which Pilate probably hoped to find in him and which might have made his task so much easier. Jesus, in answer to Pilate, asks a question of his own: ‘Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others said it to you about me?’
Astonishing question. What can Jesus mean by it? Jesus knows his hour had come. His question cannot have been an attempt to gain time in order to plot his escape. It can only have come from his awareness of Pilate as a human being in need of salvation. Although Jesus has already been insulted by Pilate’s manner, it is never his way to return insult for insult. As always, Jesus is reaching for the deepest level of the person to whom he is speaking: he wants Pilate to question Pilate, if not now, then perhaps later. Jesus’ thirst for souls is never quenched, never shelved, forgotten, or given up. To his last breath he is offering salvation to all. Jesus sees clearly that Pilate, on one level, is a man to be pitied. He is a puppet of higher political powers. History suggests that probably most of Judea regarded Pilate as an inept governor, always acting with one eye turned towards those who might be watching him, and rarely, if ever, acting, or even thinking, without being jerked into position by those puppet strings. Jesus, however, seems to pay Pilate the compliment of taking him seriously as an independent thinker, able to lay claim to his own actions and respond to him from within his own centre of freedom.
But, this compliment is lost on Pilate, seemingly. He knows that others are pulling his strings, and although he hates it, he thinks that getting more power for himself will solve his problems. He will allow himself to be a puppet to any degree if this seems to be the most effective way of eventually obtaining more power. Power is what everything is about for Pilate; it is the mental ‘lens’ through which he views everything he does. Naturally, his conversation with Jesus is coloured by these preoccupations.
But, as far as Jesus is concerned, the preoccupations are entirely other. The conversation with Pilate, in Jesus’ view, is about truth and freedom. What will Pilate make of this man?
I felt I ought to be catching up on the classics, so set the Kindle to work, digging them out. Another bite at Virginia Woolf led me to her ‘Orlando’; I have to admit to skipping a great deal in order to reach the end of the book, but this passage struck a few bells.
Father Valentine and I were discussing clock time and personal time in a recent exchange of emails. It’s easy to lose track of clock time if you don’t have appointments to keep. All very well for a privileged young woman, as VW was, but not for a young person on the verges of crime and unemployment, wanting to hold down a job. Valentine and I both know a few like that! (‘You’ve got an alarm on your phone, why don’t you use it?’ ‘I thought my mother would wake me but she went out.’) And here’s the privileged Virginia Woolf.
“Time, unfortunately, though it makes animals and vegetables bloom and fade with amazing punctuality, has no such simple effect upon the mind of man. The mind of man, moreover, works with equal strangeness upon the body of time. An hour, once it lodges in the queer element of the human spirit, may be stretched to fifty or a hundred times its clock length; on the other hand, an hour may be accurately represented on the timepiece of the mind by one second. This extraordinary discrepancy between time on the clock and time in the mind is less known than it should be and deserves fuller investigation.”
(from “Orlando: A Biography” by Virginia Woolf, 1928, available on-line.)
For better is one day in thy courts above thousands (elsewhere). Psalm 84:10