Disappointments & New Beginnings

Poets David Whyte and T.S. Eliot.

is inescapable but necessary; a misunderstood mercy and when approached properly, an agency for transformation and the hidden, underground, engine of trust and generosity in a human life. The attempt to create a life devoid of disappointment is the attempt to avoid the vulnerabilities that make the conversations of life real, moving, and life-like; it is the attempt to avoid our own necessary and merciful heartbreak. To be disappointed is to reassess our self and our inner world, and to be called to the larger foundational reality that lies beyond any false self we had only projected upon the outer world.

What we call disappointment may be just the first stage in our emancipation into the next greater pattern of existence. To be disappointed is to reappraise not only reality itself but our foundational relationship to the pattern of events places and people that surround us, and which, until we were properly disappointed, we had misinterpreted and misunderstood; disappointment is the first, fruitful foundation of genuine heartbreak from which we risk ourselves in a marriage, in a work, in a friendship, or with life itself.

Excerpt from David Whyte's Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words published in 2015.
T.S. Eliot in 1942 when he was serving as a fire-watcher during WWII in Huntingdonshire wrote the fourth of his "Four Quartets."  It is entitled "Little Gidding."  The poem is in five distinct parts and today's excerpt comes from the fifth section.


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. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.


These two poets are helping me to rethink my attitude about all of the changes which the pandemic have brought to me (us).  Sarah will tell you, I am not a fan of surprises.  I like things that go according to plan.  So my inclination vis-a-vis the pandemic has been to lament the ending of a status quo which felt comfortable to me, and to resist the new beginnings which it demands while secretly nursing the illusion that soon enough things will go "back to normal."

David Whyte, in his essay on "disappointment" has helped me reframe the way I encounter the very real experience of the loss of face to face community.  He wisely suggests that disappointment can be the first step toward embracing an even better and more fruitful new path.

T.S. Eliot, gives so many rich and thought-worthy images and phrases!  I will not presume to explain his poetry except to say that he is writing from a deep place of theology.  Those of you familiar with the 14th century Christian mystic and anchorite Julian of Norwich, I am sure, recognized the quote of the saint which Eliot uses to such powerful effect in the poem.  He is posted as a "fire watcher" in the midst of a world at war, and wrestles with how it is possible that "all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well," and in that way his struggle is the same as Julian's.

With nearly 3 Million (2,995,456) COVID-19 cases worldwide and a worldwide total of 207,583 deaths (as of this writing) there is ample reason for us to wonder and worry about the new normal that will be unfolding in the months ahead.  In the US alone, the tracker tells me we have nearly 1 million infections (972,817) and over 55k deaths (55,115) as of this morning.  Many of us have been disappointed by the cancellation of some cherished event, or the closing of some opportunity for travel.
Eliot and Whyte both invite us to reconsider our circumstance not only in the context of other world-changing tragedies (WWII with Eliot), but also in the context of God's long and tenacious love which has a peculiar power to takes disappointments and calamities and produce from them unexpected new avenues for growth and health.

Prayer -- Lord, in this season of Eastertide we are mindful of your power to redeem even the disappointing calamity of crucifixion, turning our days of mourning and sorrow into celebrations of joy and wonder.  Hear us now, as we lift up a world in need, offering prayers for those who continue to work, those who must stay home, prayers for the caregivers and the servants of every kind.  Help us to know what is our part in remaining faithful and courageous.  We ask this in the name of Jesus, the Christ.  Amen.

Paul Lang