living through death

"The only way that you can accept life is if you can accept death.” –Leo Buscaglia

…in a lifetime’s death in love…

with 4 comments

Men’s curiosity searches past and future
And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint—
No occupation either, but something given
And taken, in a lifetime’s death in love,
Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.

(T.S. Eliot ‘The Dry Salvages’, 5.)

Eliot’s words marvelously point to the reason that a sort of “death” is so important to my developing work (of which I have written in the past). He’s grappling with the problem of the human spirit’s drive to grasp the eternal by way of its own finite resources. We can see the problem again in the very first lines of the preface of Immanuel Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason.”

“Human reason, in one sphere of its cognition, is called upon to consider questions, which it cannot decline, as they are presented by its own nature, but which it cannot answer, as they transcend every faculty of the mind.”

Consciousness of this problem has emerged repeatedly in the classics of human thought, both East and West. It pervades all dimensions of human being, from our knowing, as Kant points to, to our moral experience, to the dynamics of intimacy. What I’m working to help us see is not a “solution” to the problem, per se, but rather, I hope to help us see the problem itself and to point toward a response that disarms its destructive potential. Eliot is on to it.

When our finite consciousness is impacted by consciousness of the infinite, it stands before a monumental decision. Will we cling to the dimension of our normal experience and thus be tormented by its inadequacy? Or will we, trembling, in fear, and in love, risk undergoing the death that Eliot points toward? Our response to these moments are, in all their variety, the singularly great event in human life. It is the “occupation” of the saint to which all of us, in our own ways, are called. It is the process by which all things are made new, the end of the era of futile possession. It is only here that life becomes pure gift and our hearts swell with gratitude and compassion.

This tradition I’m working in has helped me make sense of Paul’s words “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.” Whether or not these words carry any meaning for people in our time, I have no doubt that the form of life they reflect has the power to save us all.

Sunset near Rice, MN

Written by Alex

February 18, 2014 at 9:12 am

4 Responses

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  1. Love this posting! Thanks for sharing. Have a great day!


    February 18, 2014 at 9:26 am

    • Thanks for taking the time to read and reply! Peace.


      February 18, 2014 at 11:13 am

  2. Happy New Year to everyone!

    I’m writing an article and I want to close it with the above verses by Eliot. However, I need to translate them in Greek and I’m having a hard time tranlating the phrase “in a lifetime’s death in love”. Does “lifetime” here imply the duration of death or it has a totally different meaning?

    Thank you in advance!


    January 2, 2015 at 9:19 am

    • Hi Lida,
      Yes, I think you are onto it. As I read it, Eliot is suggesting that one’s entire life is a dying into this love. What is the article you are writing about?


      January 4, 2015 at 7:26 pm

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