Far Too Close to Home: Timely Truths from T.S.Eliot

My mind has been reeling with the heaviness of the recent publicity surrounding the Syrian refugee crisis. My kids and I raised precious but paltry funds selling lemonade and candy yesterday, but that did little to ease the weight of the broken world. This morning I curled up on my couch and turned to some of my favorite poems, as if those would lift the burdens that have been leaving me in a paralyzed helplessness.

As I was reading Choruses from ‘The Rock,’ I realized yet again how deeply the words T.S. Eliot wrote concerning the spiritual state of his native Britain in the 1930’s resonate with our culture today. These words were far too close to my heart and my home and our country; they were quite uncomfortable in the most healthy way.

“It is hard for those who have never known persecution, 
And those who have never known a Christian,
To believe these tales of Christian persecution.
It is hard for those who live near a bank
To doubt the security of their money. 
It is hard for those who live near a Police Station 
To believe in the triumph of violence.
Do you think that the Faith has conquered the World 
And that lions no longer need keepers?
Do you need to be told that whatever has been, can still be?
Do you need to be told that even such modest attainments
As you can boast in the way of polite society
Will hardly survive the Faith to which they owe their significance?…
Why should men love the Church? Why should they love her laws?
She tells them of Life and Death, and of all that they would forget.
She is tender where they would be hard, and hard where they would to be soft.
She tells them of Evil and Sin, and other unpleasant facts. 
They constantly try to escape 
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.
But the man that is will shadow
The man that pretends to be. 
And the Son of Man was not crucified once for all, 
And the blood of the martyrs not shed once for all,
The lives of the Saints not given once for all;
But the Son of Man is crucified always
And there shall be Martyrs and Saints. 
And if blood of Martyrs is to flow on the steps
We must first build the steps. 
And if the Temple is to be cast down
We must first build the Temple.”

In this poem, Eliot uses powerful images to attempt to shake the Church of his England awake from the slumber and numbness of prosperity.  In their comfort and busyness, in their working and buying, Eliot believed that the people of England began to push the need for the Church and more significantly the Incarnate Word of God to the wayside.

“Where there is no temple there shall be no homes, 
Though you have shelters and institutions,
Precarious lodging where rent is paid, 
Subsiding basements where the rat breeds
Or sanitary dwellings with numbered doors
Or a house a little better than your neighbor’s:
When the stranger says: ‘What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?’
What will you answer? ‘We all dwell together 
To make money from each other?’ or ‘This is a community’?
And the Stranger will depart and return to the desert. 
O my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger,
Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.”

As dangerous as the cities from which these millions of refugees are fleeing, it seems that we are just as dangerous a place spiritually. We are sleepy, if not fully passed out, from prosperity. It scares me to see in my own life and home how quickly comfort coaxes me into a truncated gospel that is all about me and my needs and forgets that at the heart of Christianity is laying down one’s life, picking up one’s cross, and allowing oneself great discomfort on this earth in light of the Coming Comforter.

The images of distraught, bereft fathers, tiny drowned toddlers and trainloads of refugees have been serving as a similar wake up call to me, to us.  Faith in Christ was never meant to be insular and comfortable. Oh, Lord, wake us up, shake us from our slumbering.

“Remember the faith that took men from home
At the call of a wandering preacher.
Our age if an age of moderate virtue
And of moderate vice
When men will not lay down the Cross
Because they will never assume it.
Yet nothing is impossible, nothing,
To men of faith and conviction.
Let us therefore perfect our will.
O God, help us.”

There is so much we cannot do, but there are a few things that we can do. We can give and we can pray. We can fight against the pervasive culture of consumerism and materialism by living more simply. We can disciple our children in the full-orbed gospel, that one that promises pain and crosses and trials as well as gifts and grace. We can love the alien in our midst, be they the foster children down the street or the outsider in our school. The images are paralyzing, but the gospel propels us forward into little steps of faithfulness. Lord, hasten your return and until then, keep us faithful.

You can donate money to a trustworthy organization by following this link and clicking on the Syria Refugee Crisis:

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