Every year, when we get to this point in autumn—with leaves crunching underfoot and dusk creeping earlier and earlier—I find myself returning to that incredible classic of poetry, T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. In “East Coker”, Eliot dwells particularly on the themes of death and life, an appropriate theme for autumn, as we once again remember that it is only through death (of plants), darkness, and cold that we are able to return once again to a green and hopeful springtime. He writes:
“In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by way of dispossession
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.” (East Coker ln. 138-146)
While Eliot always hits home for me around this time of year, I feel that he’s particularly prescient in this pandemic context: we have all collectively lived through a time in which we did not know what to do or which way was (is?) up. We have lived through a time of tragic death, and the way we live has changed. We have together experienced going “by a way which is the way of ignorance”, making the best choices we can make in a given moment with the sometimes-limited knowledge available. And now, as vaccines continue to make a difference in the fight against COVID and we anticipate the forthcoming vaccine for younger children, there’s a sense that perhaps, just perhaps, we are arriving at a more hopeful place.
But notice what Eliot does here, in this repetition: our goal is to “arrive at what you do not know”, to “possess what you do not possess”. This new birth on the other side of darkness and death is different from what has come before. The goal is newness and rebirth, not, if you will, “normal”.
Don’t worry, I won’t prolong what could be a very long poetic analysis! But what I will say is this: we find ourselves… as individuals, families, society, and as a church, on the cusp of something new, which we have not seen or known before. It is terrifying and hopeful, even as it stretches us in ways we have not been stretched before. Take heart, friends. To walk through darkness and ignorance and dispossession is, indeed, the way of the cross. And the new life that awaits us is nothing less than resurrection.