Deny Yourself

Below find selections from a poem by T.S. Eliot (Four Quartets: East Coker) which, perhaps unintentionally, provide a description of living out the words of Jesus we’ve been considering the past few Weds nights: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, and take up their cross…

To summarize: in following Christ we have to leave behind habits of self-assuredness and self-congratulation and press forward into something uncomfortable and daunting.  Some of that dark cold and empty desolation we encounter is discovering how ill-fitted we are for this journey: how little we know, how few valuable habits we’ve actually attained, how inarticulate we are about what is important, how much ground there is to cover… just to catch up with the spiritual wisdom of former generations.

And yet, there is only the trying.  Everyone.  Even the old men ought to be explorers into this self-denying following.  In fact, the aged might be best suited for it.

Some of you might enjoy this.  If poetry isn’t your thing, fine.  You can at least mine the stanzas for some cool turns of phrase: Home is where one starts from; We must be still… ; In my end is my beginning. 

The bold emphasis is mine.

You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
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 the 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.


So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

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