Running to Stand Still or Choruses from the ‘Rock’ Part II: Whitterings, November 2006

Choruses from the ‘Rock’ Part II

“Thus your fathers were made
Fellow citizens of the Saints,
Of the household of God,
Built upon the foundation
Of apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself the chief corner- Stone.
But you, have you built well, that you now sit helpless in a
Ruined house?
Where many are born to idleness, to frittered lives and squalid
Deaths, embittered scorn in honeyless hives,
And those who would build and restore turn out the palms of
Their hands, or look in vain towards foreign lands for alms
To be more or the urn to be filled.
Your building not fitly framed together, you sit ashamed and
Wonder whether and how you may be builded together for
A habitation of God in the Spirit, the Spirit which moved
On the face of the waters like a lantern set on the back of a Tortoise.
And some say: “how can we love our neighbour? For love must
Be made real in act, as desire unites with desired; we have
Only our labour to give and our labour is not required.
We wait on corners, with nothing to bring but the songs we can
Sing which nobody wants to hear sung;
Waiting to be flung in the end on a heap less useful than dung”.
T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock Stanza II

In my last article I explored the sense of directionlessness of modern society and often the church. There is a strong reaction against being too negative when discussing the modern church. It is often seen as defeatist and counter productive. However, I do not see how we can truly take stock of ourselves if we do not honestly look at ourselves in the mirror. This was my attempt in the June article on Kierkegaard.

“To see yourself is to die, to die to all illusions and all hypocrisy. It takes great courage to dare look at yourself – something which can take place only in the mirror of the world. You must want only the truth, neither vainly wish to be flattered nor self-tormentingly want to made a pure devil.” Soren Kierkegaard

Many in the church are simply in denial. This is partially a defence mechanism to protect us from a feeling that we are witnessing the work of our hands and that of our forbearers disintegrate before our eyes. We have lost the passion for true rebuilding because we do not know how to begin. Neither do I.

“you sit ashamed and
Wonder whether and how you may be builded together for
A habitation of God in the Spirit”
T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock Stanza II

Neither do I wish to continue to belabour the issue. Those of us who face aging congregations with limited young families and youth are well acquainted with the rising panic that we try and elevate through rationalisation and an emphasis on social action. We get excited over ten youth in a group or twenty children in Sunday school and choose not to focus on how sad is our excitement over such small numbers. We often despair because we see a world without meaning and purpose that has no interest in the only thing we really have to offer, the Gospel of Life and the community of the Baptised called to a life of Holiness.

“we have only our labour to give and our labour is not required.
We wait on corners, with nothing to bring but the songs we can
Sing which nobody wants to hear sung;”
T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock Stanza II

“The Church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned,
What have we to do
But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards
In an age which advances progressively backwards?
Waste and void. Waste and void. And darkness on the face
Of the deep.
Has the Church failed mankind, or has mankind failed the Church?
When the Church is no longer regarded, not even opposed, and
Men have forgotten All gods except Usury, Lust and Power.”
T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock Stanza VII

What I discern from the poem “Choruses from the ‘Rock’”, as well as from the letter of Evelyn Underhill to Archbishop Lang printed in the May column, is that we have a desperate need to return to the primary purpose of worshipping God and stopping to listen and discern His will. The Summary of the Law commands that we love God first and then with the grace that flows from this to then love our neighbours as ourselves. It often seems as if we have over emphasised the second part of the commandment without having addressed the first.

“You, have you built well, have you forgotten the cornerstone?
Talking of right relations of men, but not of relations of men
To God. “Our citizenship is in heaven”; yes, but that is the model and
type for your citizenship upon earth.”
T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock Stanza II

The Gospel that we proclaim is the way of life and freedom. We witness to lives lived with beauty, compassion, mercy, sacrifice, community and, most of all, meaning. We believe that we offer a world ‘running to stand still’ as U2 puts it, an oasis of peace and depth where one can connect once again with the purpose of the universe and ones place in it. If anything, the modern Western world needs to Gospel more than ever before to remind the world that the pursuit of money, fame, power and the elevation of the self all lead to darkness.

“A cry from the North, from the West and from the South
Whence thousands travel daily to the time kept city;
Where My Word is unspoken,
In the land of lobelias and tennis flannels
The rabbit shall burrow and the thorn revisit,
The nettle shall flourish on the gravel court,
And the wind shall say; “Here were decent godless people:
There only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls”.
T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock Stanza III

We as a church also have to offer society a real home, a real family. As catholics we witness that meaning is constructed as part of a community not on one’s own. We offer a family that will never die, that will never desert us and that is marked by true respect and love. Or at least that is what our parish communities are called to be. We also know that many communities are not safe, nurturing, meaning making communities but are rather insular and destructive. Most of us will have experienced such a church community at one point or another. So here is another obvious starting point for our church: strive to become caring, witnessing communities of disciples. I do not believe that the Mormons or the Jehovah witnesses are flourishing in our society because of their beliefs but because they offer true community. So many of us lack a true home or a true family, a place and a people to whom we belong and are loved. This we can seek to offer.

“What life have you if you have not life together?
There is no life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of God.
Even the anchorite who meditates alone,
For whom the days and nights repeat the praises of God,
Prays for the Church, the Body of Christ incarnate.
And now you live dispersed on ribbon roads,
And no man knows or cares who is his neighbour
Unless his neighbour makes too much disturbance,
But all dash too and fro in motor cars,
Familiar with the roads and settled nowhere.
Nor does the family even move about together,
But ever son would have his motorcycle,
And daughters ride away on casual pillions.”
T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock Stanza II