Meditating Four Quartets: Burnt Norton (I)

Eclectic Orthodoxy

First Movement

Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future / And time future contained in time past.

I live in time, bracketed by a past I can neither change nor retrieve and a future that beckons, disappoints, and terrifies. I am never satisfied with the present, never content. I am torn apart in time by time, fragmented.

Years ago I read Jean Pierre de Caussade’s The Sacrament of the Present Moment. The secret to holiness and contentment, he writes, is abandonment to the divine will given in the present moment: “To find contentment in the present moment is to relish and adore the divine will in the succession of all the things to be done and suffered which make up the duty to the present moment.” I can see the logic, but only rarely have I been able to practice such deep surrender…

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2 Responses to Meditating Four Quartets: Burnt Norton (I)

  1. Father Aiden, there can be no greater event that will shake all of your presuppositions about faith to their very foundations than losing a beloved child to suicide. I, therefore, find your candid admission to be the mark of a man of great faith when you said, “Perhaps this is my greatest fear—that the gospel will prove false, and my life, my time becomes unredeemable.” How could we not entertain these kinds of doubts when everything that we had ever assumed about the natural order of things has been cataclysmically reduced to rubble in the aftermath of a child’s death by their own hand?

    You are so very right when you say, “Suicide condemns the bereaved to the frozen, inalterable past.” This is the cruelty of suicide — that it causes us to second-guess ourselves and the thought processes of our loved one without ceasing. You write: “It is so easy to live in regret, to be overwhelmed and possessed by regret, to be obsessed by ‘what might have been.’ If only I had made different choices; if only I had spoken different words or not spoken any words; if only I had been more decisive; if only had I been more patient.”

    You lost your son, Aaron, to suicide only a short time before my own 15 year-old son perished from the scourge of suicide in October 2012. I find that I always get myself into trouble whenever I use the words “if only” or “I wish”. I.e., If only I had done this; or, if only I had not done that. I wish I had done this, that, or the other. I wish I hadn’t done that. The possibilities are endless. I have yet to meet the parent who is not racked with regret, self-blame, and guilt over the death of a child to suicide.

    Instead, I believe that we resign ourselves to the assurance that we did the best we knew how to do at the time with the limited or incomplete information that was then made available to us. You were a graceful and good father. That comes through in your writings about Aaron. You were not the perfect father that our Heavenly Father is, so it is not productive or helpful for any of us to hold ourselves up to that impossibly high standard. Of my own efforts, I often say that I was not a perfect father, but I was a perfectly good father.

    So where does that leave us in the suffering we must experience in the absence of our beloved sons? Here is an essay on Christian suffering that has provided me some comfort. The author does not write with your command of intellectual argument; but, there is a broad-based simplicity in our faith that is very much in evidence in the attached commentary from Veneetha Rendall. I hope it provides some comfort to you, too.

    http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/your-shattered-dreams-and-shaken-faith

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Randall, thank you for this comment. It means a great deal to me. I will most definitely read the article you have cited. Thank you.

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