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Striving After Wind

April 8, 2013

T. S. Eliot was a Modern. Some say the last of them. But then Christ plucked him out of that arrogant nonsense. His Modernist poet friends didn’t like this very much because that whole conversion business made him the first Postmodern. (You can say this was Neitzsche, if you like, but I prefer not to give auspicious titles to whiners like him, however mellifluous their whining may be.) And then he wrote Four Quartets.

Postmodernism with its heavy emphasis on metaphor and the search for meaning really scares Reformed Christians. On the whole, we don’t like Eliot very much either. (Or any poetry, really.) Somehow we’ve managed to keep the ecclesia reformata and drop the semper reformanda, carefully settling the Westminster Standards into their climate-controlled case with bullet-proof glass and the kind of alarm system that would make the U.S. Constitution run to its therapist to address its feelings of inadequacy. “The Reformers got it right. Don’t touch,” we say.

Eliot is a disturber of this peace. He’s the troublemaker with a boomerang, playing with natural human reaction. You can’t syllogize him. You can’t understand him in the same way you might understand a three-point sermon. You can’t read him as you would a thick work of systematic theology or even a work of coffee-table theology. You read his Quartets and you find a part of your brain that you don’t recall ever using before understanding his vaporous words in a way you never thought possible. And as soon as your eyes pass the words, so does your understanding, leaving in its wake the salt spray of a pathos that burns in your nose and makes you thirsty.

I love the Reformers and I love the Westminster Standards. They help me understand a lot of things. But I love Eliot because the concentrated beauty of his poetry reminds me that I really don’t understand much of anything. It is, after all, the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search things out. (Prov. 25:2)

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