A thought from poet T.S. Eliot for the end of the Academic Year 2013-2014:
With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
from Quartet No. 4: Little Gidding
Little Gidding was first published in 1942. The last of Eliot’s poem series entitled Four Quartets, Little Gidding emphasizes the unity of past, present and future. Pentecostal fire is the primary image featured in the poem. The title of the poem refers to an Anglican community founded in Huntingdonshire in the 17th Century. The town was destroyed in 1646. Its church was restored in 1714 and again 1853. Eliot pairs images of this community’s cyclical destruction and restoration with similar patterns he saw during World War II. Can humanity’s persistent return to warfare be redeemed or replaced by an awareness of human connection across time and generations? Can the bombing of London be replaced by the fires of the Spirit?
Each year as another academic year draws to a close, Eliot’s poem comes to my mind. His insights ring true for pastoral leaders and faith communities today. We here at the School of Divinity arrive at the end of a year of study begun eight months ago. Graduating students are arriving at a Master of Divinity degree journey begun six semesters or 81 credit hours ago. A question reminiscent of Eliot’s poetic query arises:
As I have in past years, I find myself during this week, considering hopes I hold for those students who on May 19 will come to the end of one phase of exploring.
I hope you have more knowledge now than when you took that first church history or theology or ethics midterm.
I hope you are more aware of the intricacies and complexities of biblical texts.
I also hope you are more likely now, as you complete 81 credit hours, to celebrate those moments when compassion and intelligence, theological acuity and moral responsibility, fuse within you so that your very bodies annunciate God’s grace.
I hope you are clearer about your core values and your limits. We cannot attend fully to everyone we meet. Wisdom and grace reside in our capacity to choose.
Accompanying these hopes are 2014’s versions of the questions Eliot poses in his 1942 poem:
With these hopes, questions, and more in mind, I say farewell to you, Class of 2014. I have enjoyed spending time with you in conversations, classrooms, chapel gatherings and coffee hours. I relish those times we have broken bread together literally and symbolically and encountered God’s presence in our midst. I wish each of you the best as you begin the next steps of your journeys of exploration. Wherever you find yourself in the next three to six months—congregational ministry, chaplaincy, counseling, teaching, not-for-profit work, additional graduate study, or in places yet to be discovered—I hope that you remain confident in and excited about how God will live and work in your lives. Your commitments to and passions for ministry and the leadership skills and gifts that continue to grow within you give me hope for the future of Gospel work and communities.
May the “drawing of this Love” and the “voice of this Calling” remain ever with you as you go.
Blessings for the week ahead,
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs