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Trinity + 5: Life's Vicissitudes

8 July 2007
2 Kings 5:1-14, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20, Psalm 30 I will magnify thee, O Lord
Heaviness may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. Psalm 30:5

Dorothy Parker had it about right:

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong,
And I am Marie of Roumania

John Donne spoke of a heaven where:
there is no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light, no noise nor silence but one equal music - a world, in other words, where there are no ups and downs, no vicissitudes. I am not quite sure whether I share his view of the perfect existence, but at any rate in this life it is a truism that we cannot experience real joy without the ability also to experience misery, as Goethe knew:

Who never ate his bread in sorrow,
Who never spent the darksome hours,
Weeping and watching for the morrow,
He knows you not, ye heavenly powers.

The Stars have not dealt me the worst they could do:
My pleasures are plenty, my troubles are two.
But oh, my two troubles they reave me of rest,
The brains in my head and the heart in my breast.
Oh grant me the ease that is granted so free,
The birthright of multitudes, give it to me,
That relish their victuals and rest on their bed,
With flint in the bosom and guts in the head.
A E Housman

Almost everyone knows what it is to have mood swings. There is a law of physics which says something like ' each action has an equal and opposite reaction', but Wordsworth put it more poetically:

As high as we have mounted in delight
In our dejection do we sink as low.
'Resolution and Independence'

Artists seem to need this wide range of emotions. Where would the Romantic poets have been without melancholy? Keats of course wrote an ode to it, in which he presents melancholy as a desirable experience which should be endured, rather than avoided, so as to emerge with renewed strength and understanding:

No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolf's-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss'd
By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow's mysteries;
For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.
But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globéd peonies.

What we really need, to get through the vicissitudes of life from cradle to grave, is a very good friend. Such a good friend, in fact, that you would be hard put to find a mere mortal who could fit the bill. As Pascal put it:
The Stoics say, 'withdraw into yourself, that is where you will find peace'. And that is not true. Others say, 'go outside, look for happiness in some diversion'. And that is not true: we may fall sick. Happiness is neither outside nor inside us: it is in God, both outside and inside us.

Some people seem to think that it is up to God to find them, not for them to seek God. The character in Jules Feiffer's cartoon says:

I live inside a shell, that is inside a wall, that is inside a fort, that is inside a tunnel, that is under the sea, where I am safe from you. If you really loved me, you'd find me.

But God, not unreasonably, hopes we will make the first move:
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Matthew 7:7

Tennyson was prepared to:

Be near me when my light is low:
When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick
And tingle, and the heart is sick,
And all the wheels of being slow.
Be near me when the sensuous frame
Is rack'd with pangs that conquer trust,
And Time a maniac, scattering dust,
And life, a Fury, slinging flame.
Be near me when my faith is dry,
And men the flies of latter spring,
That lay their eggs, and sting and sing,
And weave their petty cells and die.
Be near me when I fade away,
To point the term of human strife.
And on the low dark verge of life
The twilight of eternal day. 'In Memoriam'

And Wordsworth's conclusion at the end of 'Resolution and Independence'?:
God be my help and stay secure.

Almighty God, Father of all mercies and giver of all comfort, strengthen us, your children, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world may repose upon thy eternal changelessness. Amen.

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