Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Because I am very uncool and do not have a radio, I depend on my siblings to let me know what I should be listening to, usually by handing them my iPod when I visit so that they can fill it up with new music. I also love podcasts. I listen to This American Life religiously and ever since Sarah Hoggatt recommended Live Wire, that has been a regular as well.

Over the weekend I saw Aimee and Jeremy and they recommended my favorite new podcast, Speaking of Faith. Each week on the show, Krista Tippett interviews people about a particular aspect of their faith, life, and experiences. The first episode I listened to was an interview of an environmentalist speaking about Pagan traditions, ancient and modern. I was engrossed. It seemed especially apt because Pagans keep turning up in my life lately (maybe I'll write more about that later). It was the second episode I listened to that really got my attention, though.

I have been having a tough week. I hit real low points in both my job and my committee work. As I mentioned in a previous post, University Friends Meeting is currently in a Year of Discernment. This is a time set aside for everyone to reflect on whether University Friends in its current structure is meeting the needs of its members and fulfilling its ministries. Although I am not a member of University Friends, I am on the Steering Committee for the Year of Discernment, to provide a new/outsider perspective on the process. It is an amazing committee and I feel privileged to be on it.

But a few days ago, I felt overwhelmed. I felt like the wounds of the meeting were too deep to heal and all of the work we have been doing was not going to change anything. I also felt like these were not my problems, and maybe it would be best for me to just walk away. I knew even as I had the thought that I would not actually do that, but it seemed like a viable option as I thought about all the issues that stand between where the meeting is now and where members and attenders want it to be.

That night I was lying in bed, somewhere between active prayer and regular old worry when I got an answer: "This job is too big for you." Relief washed over me. I felt like I do when I stand next to the ocean, blessedly insignificant. Somehow, I had forgotten that I am not the one who is supposed to fix the meeting, God is. I am just supposed to do my best to help the committee and then get out of the way.

The podcast that got my attention was an interview with Karen Armstrong. She is an incredible woman, a former nun who left her convent and then fell in love with aspects of many faiths. She spoke about how a reading of T.S. Eliot's poem Ash Wednesday spoke to her condition when she was at a spiritual low. The poem is beautiful but sad, and it reflects so many of the things I have been feeling about University Friends that I wanted to include it in this post. These are just the first and sixth parts, though the whole poem is lovely.

Ash Wednesday
by T. S. Eliot

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And I pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

* * *

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dream-crossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window toward the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.


  1. you sound a lot like Priscilla Shire. You really should do her study "discerning the voice of God" I think you would really enjoy it

  2. Hi Emily,

    Thanks for the recommendation. I looked "Discerning the Voice of God" up on Amazon and it looks good, but the library doesn't have a copy. Do you have a copy I can borrow?



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