Advent, season of waiting

28th November, 2012 - Posted by Christine Perrin - No Comments

On His Blindness

WHEN I consider how my light is spent
E’re half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide,
Lodg’d with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present 5
My true account, least he returning chide,
Doth God exact day-labour, light deny’d,
I fondly ask; But patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts, who best 10
Bear his milde yoak, they serve him best, his State
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’re Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and waite.

Give us certainty Lord, that we toil for your glory, that our day—our light—is well spent. That is our surface anxiety, though unlike Milton we aren’t suddenly blind and our occupation as a reader and a writer threatened. We hear echoes of that challenging parable where the master returns to find the servant has not invested his talent wisely out of caution. But beyond that, we perceive with Lewis in Screwtape Letters that using our talent is central to the vitality of our souls. That if we fail to use the given parts of ourselves something withers, we fail to do/be/act what we were made for. Beautiful in this sonnet is the argumentative nature of the structure—the problem laid out in the first 8 lines of the sonnet, the answer or response in the later 6—don’t we argue with ourselves this way? We call our questions of god fond, but with Milton we perceive that in reality they are murmurs. Herbert says the only way we toss ourselves to the breast of God is through restlessness, Milton says without such losses of light as these we are unlikely to acquire patience. The reality the poem has unearthed and unoceaned is that we serve God by standing by waiting, by bearing what he gives us to bear. We are here to carry a cross, sometimes that cross is the suffering that we do for our own personhood (to be ourselves)—our anxiety, lack of patience, fears about our contribution. Our protestant-American-utlilitarian work ethic worries that we must be productive to be loved, to be worthy. Here with Milton, who bears the loss of his eyesight (a literal image of the spiritual blindness we all possess), we remember that bearing the mild yoke—the burdens, the sorrows, the selves we have been given—is our solemn act of service and possibly more painful than the hot blue flames of martyrdom. How little our King needs our efforts, how much he desires our presence, our participation, our waiting, our standing in silence.

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