And all will turn
To silver glass
A light on the water
Grey ships pass
Into the West


For some reason, the song Into the West, from The Lord of the Rings movie, has been the soundtrack in my mind these past few days. It's an interesting song, blending themes of death and farewell, rest and reunion. Annie Lennox's voice is ethereal, it haunts and comforts at the same time.

The song draws from Gandalf's description of what happens after death as he and Pippin fear the defeat of Minas Tirith. "Fear not," Gandalf says. "Death is only the doorway to the next realm. The dawn will come; all will turn to silver glass, and beyond is a golden shore." It also references Frodo's departure from Middle Earth as he takes the last elven ship from Gray Havens into the western sea, leaving Sam, Merry and Pippin behind to live out their lives in the shire.

But with its invocation of sleep it also speaks to me of the end of a period of life which is extremely difficult. In the movie, we hear strains of this melody while the eagles come to rescue Frodo and Sam from certain death after they've cast the ring into the fires of Mount Doom. Safe in the "arms" of the giant birds they are carried back to places of rest and recovery.

The cycle of death and resurrection, while physically real, is also spiritually/psychically symbolic. As our soul moves toward maturity we journey through difficult phases which wear us down to our last breath. Like the caterpillar dissolving in the coccoon, we may feel that we will never return to who we were. And although this is correct, it is also not the end. There is life on the other side.
 
Die while you're alive
and be absolutely dead.
Then do whatever you want:
it's all good.

says Bunan, a Zen poet from the 17th century. Or, as Rilke tells us in the following poem,  we will become free, through all we have given up, to enjoy mastery.

Dove that ventured outside,   flying far from the dovecote;
housed and protected again,    one with the day, the night,
knows what serenity is,    for she has felt her wings
pass through all distance and fear    in the course of her wanderings.

The doves that remained at home,    never exposed to loss,
innocent and seure,   cannot know tenderness;
only the won-back heart    can ever be satisfied: free,
through all it has given up,    to rejoice in its mastery.

Being arches itself     over the vast abyss,
Ah the ball that we dared,    that we hurled into infinite space,
doesn't it fill our hands    differently with its return:
heavier by the weight    of where it has been.
 

Perhaps what I love the most about Lennox's song is the soaring phrase that begins each chorus: What do you see on the horizon?  Who can know? it has not yet come into focus. But it will be more real, I think. We will be more real. Heavier, and yet somehow lighter, too. Having passed through all distance and fear, we will know what serenity is and call all things good.
 
During Lent, I've been using the Wednesday posts to reflect on hope. When I came across this poem by Rilke. I was struck by the strong message of hope I found within its lines. There is work for us to do - no doubt about that; the very act of reconciling the pieces of our life that don't match, that don't make sense, is difficult. But there is a reward that comes from graciously owning our past - the good, the bad, the perplexing. By refusing to see ourselves as victims, we turn the tables and become hosts. Rather than throwing a pity party, we anticipate a celebration with a gentle yet empowering guest. This partner in our loneliness, mysteriously responding to our monologues, has the ability to change us. And as we yield to this love we are stretched, infused, transformed until it is no longer clear who is being held and who is doing the holding - so interwoven we cannot tell where this mystical dance begins and where it ends.


She Who Reconciles

She who reconciles the ill-matched threads
of her life, and weaves them gratefully
into a single cloth --
it's she who drives the loudmouths from the hall
and clears it for a different celebration
where the one guest is you.
In the softness of evening
it's you she receives.
You are the partner of her loneliness,
the unspeaking center of her monologues.
With each disclosure you encompass more
and she stretches beyond what limits her,
to hold you.


~
Rainer Maria Rilke ~

Addendum: I was reminded, after I wrote this post, of a verse from the book of Revelation. In the first part of this vision, Jesus  instructs the apostle John to write letters to seven of the churches scattered throughout modern day Turkey. He concludes one of these letters by saying:
 
"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me."
 
Picture
'Mary With Child'. oil on linen panel by Kay Eneim

The First Sunday of Advent, a liturgical season celebrated in many congregations, was yesterday. During Advent, Christians anticipate the coming of Christ, not only remembering his birth in Bethlehem, but aware that one day He will come again as King, to rule in peace and justice. But waiting characterizes much of the life of a Christian, for we find ourselves waiting each day for the signs of incarnation in us, for the quickening of that same spirit which overshadowed the young Jewess we know as Mary.

Waiting has its challenges. It is hard when you know what you are waiting for - a graduation, a wedding, a visit from friends or a long-expected vacation. But it is even more difficult when you don't know exactly what is in the future, only that things aren't now what they will be. For the past seven years, I've felt like that's been my story, as I've entered this period of life, waiting for something to emerge, waiting to become someone whom I don't yet know, and yet a person who will be more authentically me than I've ever been before.

In "The Heart Aroused," David Whyte quotes a poem by Rilke in which he describes his life as a rest between two notes. Here is a portion of the poem:

I am the rest between two notes,
which are somehow always in discord
because death's note wants to climb over-
but in the dark interval, reconciled,

they stay there trembling.
        And the song goes on, beautiful. (trans Robert Bly)

Rilke sees the note before and the note to come as discordant, and in that uncomfortable clash exists a real danger that he will be overrun by death. Perhaps Rilke is not speaking so much of a physical death here, as the despair or depression that comes when one feels "out of tune", unaligned, fragmented. We feel that we have entered a dark night of the soul, and don't know what to do, or how to bring our lives back into harmony.

The tension of these dark times can be frightening, or paralyzing. But they offer us a challenge, an opportunity to go deeper, to reach a different level of integration. Donald Epstein has written on this in his book, "The 12 Stages of Healing." In Stage 8 he describes coming to the place of emptiness.
 
"Many people believe that emptiness is a lifeless void of nothingness that leads to emotional or mental paralysis. However, emptiness, when timed correctly in the healing process, leads to freedom...It serves as the space of transition..." 

The season of Advent is a season of waiting. It is a season of transition, of darkness, of longing for what is not yet here. But we need not be fearful. Instead we can learn how to breathe during these periods of our lives, to wait with patience and hope. As we approach these "advents" with expectancy, aware that something is forming deep in a mysterious womb, we can rest, knowing that, in the fullness of time, God's handiwork will be revealed. And the song will go on, beautiful.
 
Picture
A gnarled tree trunk, nestling leaves...

It's a dreary day, and I must admit I am ready for the weekend, although it is only Thursday. This poem is a comfort, an encouragement that it's OK to settle down, like leaves falling into a welcoming earth. I don't have to be strong enough to hold others; I am not always strong enough to hold myself up. But there are gentle hands, which can hold and calm when it's time to rest.

Autumn
Rainer Maria Rilke

The leaves are  falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying  high in  space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning "no."

And tonight the  heavy earth is falling
away from all other stars in the loneliness.

We're all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one. It's in them all.

And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, holding up all this falling.