(Note: This is the first of things that I was spiritually processing while on retreat. The title is, of course, a quote from Eliot, who is always somewhere in the back of my mind. I hope you find it beneficial.)
It seems to me that life has a circular motion. Live for a few years and you’ll see the same issues arising over and over again. Not only issues, but the same types of people will come and go. Each time they arrive, they bring the same kinds of challenges each time — only, perhaps, are those difficulties are sung in a different key than the ones before. But, there they are singing, nevertheless. They will be again, too, somewhere down the line, if you wait around long enough.
I’d like to think that this recurrence of life is God’s way of giving us another chance to act in the same play, but now with the blessing to switch roles. The penitent becomes the one who forgives; the antagonist becomes the protagonist; and the lead takes his seat in the audience as the third stagehand rushes from the wings, seizing the sword to become the hero. Perhaps this time around, we’ll join in that trio to make it a quartet, or blend our voices with the chorus instead of always going it alone.
But, woe to those who never change. Woe to those who are put in the same situation over and over, but never act any differently. Woe to those who always shoot from the hip, oblivious of history, ignorant of the past. These will never know the pain of regret, the slow disillusionment of disappointment or the quiet grace that comes from sitting with your past. Woe to the constant critic, always unsure of contentment. Woe to the perpetual killers, the murderers of reputations, the petty and the small. Woe to the vainly preoccupied with the refection in the mirror. Woe to those constructors of bigger and bigger barns. For these all will be doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again, brazenly yelling of their rightness at the blowing wind. These will never quite know the grace of Divine visitation, the grace of switching roles or the grace of a changed life.
I can’t really blame them, though, because the problem with life’s circuitous nature is that it is often very hard to see. All you see is a few feet in front of you and the only thing you feel is the pain of running. You lose the big picture, because those old wounds reopen (those hidden pains that we thought were healed) as we feebly struggle on the race that is set before us. But, perhaps, the blood flows sweeter each time wounds reopen, because we offer it up for those who have wounded us, that they might lay their burdens down and study war no more. And, perhaps, they’ll awake from themselves to this grace. We should pray the same grace to penetrate our own lives with just the same passionate intensity.
The writer of Ecclesiastes once famously wrote that there is a season for everything, “a time for every matter under heaven”. (3:1) This is most certainly true. There is time in every generation for the Judases who betray with a kiss, the apathetic Pilate’s who wash their hands, the betting Roman guards who look out for their own benefit. There is a time in every generation for the Mary’s and the John’s, who sit at the foot of the Cross, embracing one another as family. There is a time for the Simon’s who help carry the cross and for the faceless, nameless person in the crowd to shout, “crucify!” There is a time for all of these. There is a season for each.
If life is a circle of recurrence, then it is only a circle around the crucifixion. Not only is it the central event in the lives of several Palestinians in the first century, but it is the central event of our very own lives here in the twenty-first century. This event is the center of all life, around which we are revovling. Each season rises and sets on the crucifixion. Our weeping, our laughter, our mourning, our dancing, our thrown-away stones and our up-gathered stones, our seeking, our losing, our keeping and our throwing away all happen around this Galilean’s cross. This is the central drama of our lives, around which we revolve. These are the only roles we get to play in our day and in every day, whether we realize it or not.
But, hear the good news: “See, now is the acceptable time, see, now is the day of salvation!” (1 Cor. 6:3) We who have played the Judas for a season, today we can change. We who have hidden like the cowardly disciples, now is the time for charging boldness. We who have shouted derisively with crowd, now is the day of praise. We who bartered for his robes, seeking gain from others’ suffering, now is the day of salvation. Yes, there is a season for robbery, for martyrdom, for pain and for death. But, now is the acceptable season, now is the day of salvation, now is the day of resurrection. Today is the day to change roles.
Blessed are those who discern what day it truly is. Blessed are those who put down the hammer. Blessed are those who walk away from the betting game. Blessed are those who silence their mouths. Blessed are those give the kiss of peace instead. Blessed are those who stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves and blessed are those who courageously help those who are suffering in this and every generation. Blessed are those who shoulder up the cross and carry it, each in their own small way. Blessed are those who decide to stand with Our Lady and St. John there at Calvary. Blessed are those who watch a dying man die and praise God, anyway. Blessed are those who feebly struggle and claim each other as family because He told us to.
The writer of Ecclesiastes goes onto write, “That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by”. (3:15) We’ve been here to Golgotha before. For sure, we’ll come to it again, as our life revolves around it. We come to Golgotha every time we pass by a hungry man and do not offer our food. We come to Golgotha every time we unduly burden the suffering of those in pain. Every time we mock those who are different, every time we gossip, every time we open a Prayer Book. We come back to Calvary each and every time we choose to love, every time we hold fast to what is good or when we bless when we are persecuted. We come back to Calvary each and every time the Priest takes the host, blesses and breaks it, saying “This is my body which is given for you”. Will we deny our hearts to him, once again?
The question for all of us, really, is who am I going to be in the Calvary of my life? What role am I going to play in my neighbor’s Golgotha? Woe to those who never know the grace of change, but blessed are they who can discern the time. Blessed are they who know that today is the day of change. Today is the day of salvation.