Today's sermon was about redeeming the time before we die. It's a line of scripture which always makes me think of the T.S. Eliot poem Ash Wednesday:
White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.
Well, of course, redeem the time we must. They are dying thus around us every day, as Mr John Jarndyce says in Bleak House. But my thoughts today are also lingering on the unread vision in the higher dream.
The unread vision. I suppose there are periods in everyone's life when they feel that the vision is unread, or indeed unreadable. There is lead in the shoes. The mental and affective spine has frozen as if to protect itself from further injury. But must it be this way? Is it excusable on our part?
I don't think this is just about keeping our eyes on a fixed end or goal beyond this life. That of course we must do. But I'm curious about what makes us stop reading the vision in the higher dream. By the dream I mean that which assures us of the larger vistas that lie beyond our stifled confines; I mean awareness of, or sensitivity to, something more enriching that the TV-dinner of commercial society; something therapeutic after the unredeemed quotidian has finished abusing our souls; something restorative after the wicked have pillaged our hearts' reserves and left us for dead. By the dream, I mean the realities that bring both mind and appetite into tune with truth, goodness and beauty.
Does it become obscure because of our circumstances? Do we obscure it by our own distractions? How do we end up moving through solid air? To me it's like losing the taste for food. Something happens to the palette, something in the central gustatory system goes wrong, and the faculty of taste, or in this case the faculty of reading the vision in the higher dream, becomes confused, unable to tell salt from sweet. But why do we flee the conditions of creativity? Why do we live in miserly fashion rather than generously? Why do we retreat from the challenge of the ludic, to a false repose in static inertia? What has poisoned the system so badly that paralysis has become the only safe option? Why are we counting out life in cans? Cause or consequence of ceasing to read the dream?
But, at that point, have we not simply arrived at the point where T.S. Eliot sat down ninety years ago and wrote:
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
And have we caught up with him?
So here I am at the end of the year, resolved to collect fragments. What else can one do? Stravinsky said rules were the condition of creativity in music. I wonder if it isn't the same with all action which is meant to make the mind blossom when it only feels like wilting. Collect fragments, examine them by candlelight, find the cool melodies to sooth the torrid tension, and hope for a better place in the months ahead. Hope for the dream.
I go into the new year - the new liturgical year - with spiritual goals reaffirmed. But I will fail unless I find somehow, somewhere the renewed desire to read the dream.
Redeeming the time and reading the dream might well be inseparable. For fragments are not so very far from fragile bodies and lost souls.
The world turns and the world changes,
But one thing does not change.
In all of my years, one thing does not change,
However you disguise it, this thing does not change:
The perpetual struggle of Good and Evil.