Pushing Thirty

and shedding pretentions

On Elegy

A world in transition comes with certain sorrow.

Last night, a class of interns spent their last night in the Prayer Room after coming night after night for 3 months. I left out the back door, but I know the scene that took place at the front door: interns hugging leaders, exchanging last minute emails, shedding tears. I know that kind of grief, one that you knew was coming and yet still surprised me with how quick it was upon me.

Another, a friend of mine, helped her father and mother move out of the house where she had been raised. Since the move meant that they would be 1000 miles closer, she was eager to help them pack. But when she drove up to that familiar place for the last time, a strange and overwhelming grief swept over her heart, and it made her glad that she had come to bid her home farewell.

And so the changes and transitions– even good ones, and expected ones– come with sorrow, and force us to say goodbye. In this way, we as humans have goodbye forced upon us, and we live elegy.

How much more so does the spiritual life demand that we say goodbye to things in our lives and hearts in order to make room for better things, like Christ and his love that surpasses all?  The pilgrim life– the bible addresses all who belong to Christ as precisely this– insists that we are always saying goodbye to the things of this life that have no permanence.  And the ‘lovesick’ paradigm of scripture does the same: in the bridal Psalm (45) the bride is exhorted to leave her father’s house and rush to the embrace of her beloved.  This departure, necessarily implies an elegy.

If that which we were told to leave was plainly inferior, we might not need be told.  But we do, for we can’t see.  And so our goodbyes are often not without sorrow, and lament.  Whether we are laying to rest hopes and dreams that we suddenly see are in conflict with our aim to love Christ more deeply, or whether (as I have done) we are bidding adieu a few tasty morsels on the verge of a fast, the sweet sadness is near our hearts.  Be it lovesickness, or homesickness, we in doleful tones release those things in this life that our hearts had mistaken for the realm and Lover for whom we were made.  Elegy helps us recognize that those things we kiss goodbye had only reminded us of a heavenly country anyway.

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