Most literate folks have heard the name T.S. Eliot. They might only know that the blockbuster musical Cats was based on verses contained in his Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, a whimsical minor work from the man who gave us that early 20th Century dark cry from the heart, The Waste Land, a broken jumble of literary fragments and dreadful, dream-and-nightmare-like evocations and images thought to reflect the broken state of the world post-WWI.
Eliot underwent a conversion to Anglican Christianity and in the early 1930s and wrote a pagaent called, “The Rock” as part of a fundraiser to build suburban churches in England. Many critics to this day dismiss it, call it “hack work”. And critics and readers who embraced Eliot in subsequent years were probably wary of his religiosity, preferring instead to find affirmation of a pervasive nihilism in works such as “The Waste Land” or, just as likely, hoping to follow Eliot toward whatever light he’d found, though their own hearts weren’t all that invested in the journey. (Speaking of “journey”, Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi” is a great Christmas poem.)
But, enough. For this Tuesday of this Third Week of Advent, here are some pertinent lines from Eliot’s “Choruses from “The Rock”:
We thank Thee for the lights that we have kindled,
The light of alter and of sanctuary;
Small lights of those who meditate at midnight
And lights directed through the colored panes of windows
And lights reflected from the polished stone,
The gilded carven wood, the colored fresco.
Our gaze is submarine, our eyes look upward
And see the light that fractures through unquiet water.
We see the light but not whence it comes.
O Light Invisible, we glorify Thee.