My training in biblical studies has given me a deep appreciation for the long and dusty road of history. I still have my first Old Testament history textbook. It opened up new worlds for me as I became familiar with the scope and breadth of people and cultures that have long since disappeared. So much is gone but then we can’t even completely know ourselves and those closest to us in our present life.
A dear friend is brilliant, insightful man who has always had the weakness of harboring resentments. I sometimes see the same tendency in myself and I pray that I can grow old with grace. When we reflect on our lives we can easily become consumed by resentment, guilt, and regret in a way that hides the sheer miracle of having lived and of being alive.
When we reflect more deeply, we can see that even troubles which we brought on ourselves contain a hidden gem. Difficulties can be the greatest friend of our soul. I wonder if that’s what Isaiah meant when he said that God will “swallow up the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. (25:7).
The Welsh poet R. S. Thomas has written a beautiful poem about looking back on life with regrets about having missed an opportunity. Of wishing we could do something differently.
I have seen the light break through to illuminate a small field for a while and gone my way and forgotten it. But that was the pearl of great prize, the one field that had treasure in it. I realize now that I must give all that I have to possess it. Life is not hurrying on to a receding future nor hankering after an imagined past. It is the turning aside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush. To a brightness that seems as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
At the heart of this poem is a realization that all time is contained in the eternity of God. As John O’ Donohue insightfully recognizes:
Your time is not just past or future. Your time here always inhabits the circle of your soul. All your time is gathered, and even your future time is waiting here for you. In a certain sense your past is not gone but rather is hidden in your memory. Your time is the deeper seed of the eternity that is waiting to welcome you (Anam Ċara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, 187).
Earl, your message here runs very deep. It took more than the usual amount of pondering to grasp what you and the Welsh and Celtic writers were really saying. I’m not sure I understand it all, but here is possibly one interpretation, based on life as I have known it:
I saw an illuminating vision once and ignored it. I once heard about the saving power of Jesus Christ – in my youth – as I attended Youth For Christ meetings in high school. But I ignored the message at the time, thinking it basically irrelevant. But much later in life – about 20 years later – I began to realize that Christ really did offer a better way of living, and I needed that personal relationship with him, so I accepted Christ’s invitation to the world of the Eternal. I was able to bring up that long-discarded memory of what Christ was all about because his light had made such an impression in my mind, even though it was veiled from consciousness for 20 years. Considering the wide scope of Eternity, I imagine that to God it doesn’t matter that it took so long to grasp the importance of that original vision.
I enjoyed looking up information on R.S.Thomas – kind of an Amish Anglican? – well, sort of. His writing reminds me of Wendell Berry’s. Beautiful. – Margie
Margie, to me it means not being consumed with regrets–“if only I had bought that field!” It also means letting go of resentments against people who perhaps unwittingly (or very deliberately) did me harm. From the perspective of the third decade of my life I can see more clearly that such regrets and resentments reveal a distorted understanding of success and self-worth.
I instead aspire to live in the circle of God’s eternity and to gain grace and wisdom from all of life, even the hard parts including those places where I really screwed up or resentments that I have carried far too long. Does that make sense? For example I sometimes pray for those who have been my enemies, “God here’s Joe. You know he really hurt me but that really doesn’t matter much anymore. Bless him and help him to become a better person. Also enable me to learn and grow from that painful experience that still hurts.”