Sunday, 31 January 2016

A Ring of Endless Light

The earth will never be the same again
Rock, water, tree, iron, share this grief
As distant stars participate in the pain.
A candle snuffed, a falling star or leaf,
A dolphin death, O this particular loss
A Heaven-mourned; for if no angel cried
If this small one was tossed away as dross,
The very galaxies would have lied.
How shall we sing our love's song now
In this strange land where all are born to die?
Each tree and leaf and star show how
The universe is part of this one cry,
Every life is noted and is cherished,
and nothing loved is ever lost or perished.

I was reflecting on these lines from Madeleine L’Engle’s book “A Ring of Endless Light”, over the tragic death of Nathan Vibert in a traffic accident. The book is about life and death, hope and grief, beginnings and endings. It suggest to us that, as L’Engle puts it, “Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.”

Coming to terms with loss of someone loved dearly is very difficult. I have known the loss of a partner, Annie, who was lover, friend, soul-mate, and that is like your heart being torn apart.

I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like for the parents of Nathan, coming to terms with the loss of a son. I have three sons, and like all parents, I worry about them, even though they are now grown up. The love we have as parents does not end when a child grows up, leaves home, and starts an independent life.

Our society looks at people as individuals, whether as consumers, or as nuclear units, but I’ve known people at work gone back home to England to visit a sick or dying family member. We are all bound together in close ties of family and friendship, and when that kind of knot unravels, and the chord is cut with finality, we feel the pain. The bond seems broken, life seems fractured as if by a seismic shock. As one of L’Engle s characters says:

“This wasn't the first time that I'd come close to death, but it was the first time I'd been involved in this part of it, this strange, terrible saying goodbye to someone you've loved.”

But our finite lives are what make life so precious. That is the nature of the world we live in.

In Peter de Rosa’s short fable, “The Best of All Possible Worlds”, a God creates a world and populates it with creatures all alike (so no jealousies), plenty of food just ripe to be plucked, fresh water to drink, no dangers, and a land of beauty everywhere. It seems a paradise, and the inhabitants have been given a gift of living forever. But it is not enough. Life without the darkness removes all reason for doing anything, all reason for living. 

As a character says in C.S. Lewis book "Out of the Silent Planet"

“And I say also this. I do not think the forest would be so bright, nor the water so warm, nor love so sweet, if there were no danger in the lakes.”

This is something L’Engle touches on as well:

“If we knew each morning that there was going to be another morning, and on and on and on, we'd tend not to notice the sunrise, or hear the birds, or the waves rolling into shore. We'd tend not to treasure our time with the people we love.”

“If we are not willing to fail we will never accomplish anything. All creative acts involve the risk of failure.”

When my Annie died, my grief went into collecting things she had written, paintings she had done, photos of her, and above all about stories other people had about her part in their lives, because she made a difference. Every life makes a difference, and the film “A Wonderful Life” reminds us of that when we might forget. And I found that it is in the telling that I came to terms with my grief, which is always there, part of me, but is something I can now embrace.

L’Engle also stresses the importance of story. A story teller herself, she found her faith in story rather than doctrine. If we are to come to terms with grief, and belief, we must find it in memory, and in telling each other stories of those lost.

“If you don't recount your family history, it will be lost. Honour your own stories and tell them too. The tales may not seem very important, but they are what binds families and makes each of us who we are.”

“Stories are able to help us to become more whole, to become Named. And Naming is one of the impulses behind all art; to give a name to the cosmos, we see despite all the chaos.”

And that was where she found God, and in the darkness of grief as much as in the light of joy:

“I will have nothing to do with a God who cares only occasionally. I need a God who is with us always, everywhere, in the deepest depths as well as the highest heights. It is when things go wrong, when good things do not happen, when our prayers seem to have been lost, that God is most present. We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly. We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly.”

That isn’t to say that we have a trite meaning to story of God, that somehow faith helps us come to terms with grief. C.S. Lewis, when he lost Joy Davidman, was fiercely honest when he jotted in his journal his thoughts and feelings, that which later became the small booklet “A Grief Observed”

“The death of a beloved is an amputation.”

“Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand.”

“Unless, of course, you can literally believe all that stuff about family reunions 'on the further shore,' pictured in entirely earthly terms. But that is all unscriptural, all out of bad hymns and lithographs. There's not a word of it in the Bible. And it rings false. We know it couldn't be like that. Reality never repeats. The exact same thing is never taken away and given back. How well the spiritualists bait their hook! 'Things on this side are not so different after all.' .. For that is what we should all like. The happy past restored.”

The moment we are born, we have the end of our story. We don’t know how long the story is, and some stories are tragically short. But each story, however short, has days, hours, minutes, seconds, and each second is precious. Even the more mundane and everyday memories become precious.

This is not to cling on to the past, it is remembering what we so often forget, the difference that each life make. It is those sudden endings, those dislocations that hurt as much as if it was our bones torn from sockets, that teach us this most strongly - a lesson that L’Engle sums up briefly but perfectly: “Nothing, no one, is too small to matter. What you do is going to make a difference.”

At the end of the book of Job, one of the greatest, though often neglected books of the Hebrew bible, when Job has laid all his accusations of how the innocent and righteous suffer before God, of how he has been so cruelly treated by the loss of his loved ones, by his own physical infirmity striking him down, he waits for an answer.

There is no answer given in terms of the kinds of reason we expect. Instead, we are simply offered a great and dazzling vision of God creating the universe: an epiphany. Madeleine L’Engle does something very similar in “A Ring of Endless Light”. There are no easy explanations, nothing we can say to mend the wounded heart. In the ending, she says this:

A great ring of pure and endless light
Dazzles the darkness in my heart
And breaks apart the dusky clouds of night.
The end of all is hinted in the start.
When we are born we bear the seeds of blight;
Around us life and death are torn apart,
Yet a great ring of pure and endless light
Dazzles the darkness in my heart.
It lights the world to my delight.
Infinity is present in each part.
A loving smile contains all art.
The motes of starlight spark and dart.
A grain of sand holds power and might.
Infinity is present in each part,
And a great ring of pure and endless light
Dazzles the darkness in my heart.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Kind words about Nathan - Take care Tony