Do you ever find yourself coming back to something—a painting, a poem, a place in the landscape or an old photograph but not knowing why you continually return? The compulsion is apparently strong but the reasoning escapes you. I feel that way about the poem Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot. I discovered it first in college and understood almost none of it, but, for some reason, I kept rereading. Over time, of course, I’ve encountered enough literary criticism and heard so many lectures on Eliot’s famous poem, that I do have a sort of reasoning of what he means. But that isn’t what draws me back, makes me spend time and effort to find the essence that apparently still, to some extent, always alludes me.
Near the very end of this long poem Eliot writes: “What we call the beginning is often the end/ And to make an end is to make a beginning./ The end is where we start from.”
And as we come to the close of this year’s celebration of our Lenten time of introspection and renewal, I once again, find myself, as Eliot would say, making a beginning out of an end. Because I think Eliot hits upon something that isn’t intellectual but visceral, not understood but known. He touches, I believe, on “home”–not a place or a structure or a location or a pinpoint in time—home is always, is now, is seven generations before and beyond this present moment. Here, a bit later, he continues: “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.”
If we take Eliot’s meaning to be “home” and then apply it to our present Lenten journey, what have we learned about ourselves in this “home”; about our agency, responsibility and contribution during our time on this Earth; about our expansion of gratitude and gifts beyond our own existence here, about our ability to go on?
Can you see, for instance, the Earth and other living souls as more than human? Will your compassion allow you to sit quiet and become one with a RIVER?
Do you know better who you are—where home is for you; do you see yourself as ENOUGH to carry forward?
Are you able to make beginnings out of endings and accept endings when it is time to let old structures and systems die away? Can you see in yourself the wisdom to lead and support, the good humor to allow with compassion and COMEDIC GENIUS?
Is your step lighter, your touch gentler, your impact on our planet kinder? Are you now leaning into BEING A BENIGN PRESENCE?
Do have the tools, strength and perseverance to know where you are headed and how you will succeed in KEEPING YOUR HEAD (AND HEART) ABOVE GROUND as you continue in this work?
And can you see in the end of what “IS” the beginnings of what could and will be? Can you be part of this movement, this current of hope, to lend your hands and heart to a sustainable future where home for all of us truly does include all of us and does no harm? Can you build a CLEAN RENEWABLE CURRENT OF HOPE?
If there was even one yes in your heart, I think you are home. I think we are all swirling in Eliot’s lyrical take on time and space and it is up to us to make our endings into beginnings—not for us but for those who come after. To end our celebration and begin anew, there is one lesson left, one voice left to hear…
Sherri L. Mitchell–Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset–is a Native American lawyer, author, teacher and activist from Maine. Mitchell is the author of Sacred Instructions; Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change, a narrative of ‘Indigenous Wisdom’ that provides “a road map for the spirit and a compass of compassion for humanity.” In Sacred Instructions, Mitchell writes:
Every person alive today is part of the dream of the ancestors. We are the fulfillment of prophecy. Now, it is time for us all to step into our role as ancestor of the future and dream the next seven generations into being. In doing so, we must recognize that giving them life is not enough. We must also work to provide them with a world that is capable of sustaining their lives. This is the work of our time, the work of our lives. To succeed in this work, we must reconnect with the thread of life. We must learn the spiritual language spoken by our ancestors and renew the relationship that they long held with the rest of creation. Together we must turn from our stories of domination and destruction and begin to write a new story based on cooperation and conscious co-creation of a more humane and sacred way of being.
The Confluence Climate Collaborative welcomes everyone home to begin.