Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Nicholas Ferrar, Little Gidding, letting go

We celebrate the feast of Nicholas Ferrar today, though he died on December 4th, not December 1st, 1637, and though I'm not sure if he will still be on the calendar next year when we may remember instead Charles de Faoucauld. But for today we remember Nicholas Ferrar, and I find it very apt that this observance may disappear since the religious community he founded at Little Gidding lasted 20 years and no longer.

So often we remember people who establish things that last. I'm finding myself pleased this day to recognize someone who established something ephemeral. Something's permanence is seen as a sign of its strength and quality. For me I know I feel good about the fact that some of the programs I have set up are still going on. But what if they hadn't lasted? Would that mean they were bad?

I am grateful to Nicholas Ferrar today for suggesting to me that good things may last a short time, and that that is not a sign that it wasn't part of God's plan or according to God's will. It's made me think, in fact, how much better so many of our institutions would be if we could let more go, if we weren't so concerned about establishing things for a lifetime and beyond.

I'm grateful also to T.S. Eliot for making me think these very things upon reading Little Gidding from the Four Quartets. To wit:

There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
Being between two lives—unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle. This is the use of memory:
For liberation—not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past. Thus, love of a country
Begins as attachment to our own field of action
And comes to find that action of little importance
Though never indifferent. History may be servitude,
History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,
The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.

As Nicholas Ferrar and his community vanished. And I hope have been renewed and transfigured over and over again.

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