Wednesday, 4 June 2008

The Satiricon and the Sybil.

The tram leaving my local station.

The Word made Flesh.

The village of Friedelsheim in the Rheinland Pfalz.

The bar at the Wig and Pen Club.

In the first century, Petronius wrote the 'Satiricon', in which he satirised the weariness of life by telling the story of the Sybil of Cumae. The Sybil, a mythical creature, was a prophetic beast wielding huge power over humanity by it's ability to see into the future. The sybil at Cumae was the most famous of it's breed and, in the peculiar time when Christian and Pagan symbolism interwove (see the good shepherd as an example), Apollo offered he whatever she desired. Picking up a handful of sand, the Sybil requested that she live for as many years as she had grains of sand in her hand. Petronius ends the story by seeing the Sybil, now the last of it's kind, kept in a cage as an attraction, for she was wizened and frail, unable to defend herself or prophesy anymore. He says....

Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent: Σίβυλλα τί θέλεις; respondebat illa: aποθανεiν θέλω.

Which translates (and forgive my koine Greek keyboard) 'for once I saw with my own eyes the Sybil of Cumae hanging in a cage and when the boys said to her 'Sybil, what do you want', she said 'I want to die'.

This satirical account of weariness was picked up on by TS Eliot when he wrote 'The Wasteland', that great journey East which, along with the books of the day and the night (Ulysees and Finnegan's Wake) by James Joyce, shaped our consciousness and re found the literary root of movement which has characterised all European literature from Beowulf to the Canterbury Tales, as the riverrun in Finnegan's Wake to the Thames carrying the boats past St Magnus Martyr in the Wasteland, we have been on an inexorable journey to the East, to the rising sun and the Risen Son. It is, though, sometimes weary, as has also been picked up upon and sometimes the reading is weary as well but unlike the Sybil, we live through the grace of God, rather than existing through the humour of the Gods of legend.

What was Christ's life but a journey to the East with His friends? From the waters at the right (east) side of the temple in the Old Testament to the wise men coming from the East so Christ fled to the East, the same way the Israelites fled, to escape persecution, to His eventual walk up the Eastern side of Golgotha and the blood and water once again flowing East from His side, our lives are turned in this direction of praise and worship. We too are on our earthly pilgrimage which goes East, figuratively, to Christ.

It is now June, so I am entering the final year of this small part of my pilgrimage. Next June, God willing, I will be ordained Deacon and installed in a Parish as curate. Happily I have been recommended for ordination by my tutor, so the journey continues another year. What will happen over the next year to me though? This is a time to reorient my life, to shed certain things and to take on certain others. This is to be a very difficult year, as I am to discern in what way I will walk into, spiritually, my new Parish Church. Indeed I will also find out where that will be. One thing is sure and that is that I will have to change a bit and be changed a bit more and that I will need support and help in unselfish, complete ways. Now is the time of turning towards the East and turning towards God, leaving behind that which is not of Him and that which will turn me away from Him. It is going to be a very tough year, but by the end, nothing must come between me and Him, or I will begin blindly and in a compromising position. Weariness must give way, in the opposite of the Sybil's life, to openness to the future and the promise of His light. Everything needs to be reassessed in this glorious light, as it does for all of us, 'will this hinder or help me in giving myself to the people of God?' is the question to be asked, although I do not want to do so, I must be honest to myself and ultimately honest to God, who has brought me this far.

So it is that in the next year I will be leaving more behind. I put a couple of pictures above to show what I have left in the past, for whatever reason. Nothing remains of them save a fond memory and the first picture is soon to become a memory as well, occasionally visited but never again possessed. All that remains is the Word made Flesh. All that remains is love, however I am a difficult person to love as I must put God first and my calling to Him, which is particular and strong. However, even in the coach crash of European Literature at the climax of The Wasteland, when the east is reached and the Fisher King fishes for an old boot, a snake or what? a pearl? and the cheerful acceptance of sin echoes in the recitation of nursery rhymes, Dante the provincial poet casts himself in the refining fire in the cheerful acceptance of purgatory and Gerard de Nerval, the disinterested prince of Aquitaine, cheerfully accepts his disinheritance is the echo of the memory of hot gammon and the end of war. And running through all this, the sterility of self giving if it becomes a game of supremacy which is the eventual debasement of love, eventually is swallowed up in the commands of God which bring, at the last, peace, the wished peace which passes all understanding. For through the sadnesses of life and the inevitable bereavements, here comes, at the last, if we keep faithful through all the confusion (and there is more of that coming to us all, I am afraid,) peace, the peace of the Kingdom of God, the eschatological promise of His glory.