The end we start from

I hope you will treat yourself to the current film, “Philomena.”

In the driveway after a long journey and arriving at the Convent where it all began, Martin observes to Philomena:

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. (T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding-V”)

Neither of them has any idea of how demanding that “end” will be. Neither do we. That is the fierce mystery isn’t it? Endings are “often” staggering beginnings.

Here we are on the last night of the liturgical calendar, the eve of the beginning of Advent. The celebration of the consummation of God’s creation (“in the beginning…”) last Sunday bringing us now to

“In days to come…the LORD’s house
shall be established….”. (Isaiah 2)

There is more here than a nice liturgical juxtaposition. The liturgical calendar reflects Eliot’s insight into the depth dynamic of existence. Call it evolution, ying and yang, dialectical idealism or materialism, or that sense we often have of déjà vu. In classical Christian spiritual awareness and direction, we remind ourselves that we are always beginning. Life is more than what a friend of mine glibly says: Life is hard and then you die. Even he doesn’t really believe that! He and we know that life has cycles and seasons.

In Natalie Sleeth’s “Hymn of Promise” she probes the mystery of our experience of the cycles and seasons. I confess that I have been a little troubled by her poem, not so much its text as our cozy adoption of its seeming optimism. She is too good a poet and theologian for us to sentimnentalize life in terms of bulbs, cacoons, and winter’s snow and cold. Like Philomena’s wintry return to the convent where she lost her son and then discovers herself beginning again, the “ends” we come to are often terrible and painful crucifixions. The grinding of tectonic plates ends a build up of catastrophic pressures, and the land and its creatures have to face a shattered new reality.

The Christian’s hope—our hope—is not in some mechanical necessity or some bland “immortality of the soul”. Rather our hope and confidence to face our endings is in Christ, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. Resurrection is unpredicable; hoped for but not assured to come out neatly, patterned to our assumptions and advantages. But it does come with hope in God and in consummation of God’s gracious intentions. That is the hope embedded in the beginning the came forth from the burial in the tomb.

Where are we? Advent, Easter, or in groaning and singing with creation in “the sufferings of this present time”:

For the herald’s voice is crying
in the desert far and near,
Calling all to true repentance,
since God’s reigning now is here.
Oh, that warning cry obey! Now prepare for God a way!
Let the valleys rise in meeting
and the hills bow down in greeting.

in  OSL Daily Office [Draft for Field Use and Evaluation
December, 2013])

Br. Abbot Daniel