Tag Archives: T.S. Elliot

Qur’an 16: The Bees

God creates things, in time. God is the God of promise, while Satan is the devil of the eternal meaningless now. Wait, it will not be long, but as quick as the twinkling of a star, or an eye. The present is made real in the past and the future, as the Spirit brings the Word of the Lord.

Of all the chapters in the Qur’an so far this is the closest to poetry, the closest to Scripture.

The hint half guessed, the gift half
understood, is Incarnation.
Here is the impossible union.
Of spheres of existence is actual
here the past and future
Are conquered, reconciled
T.S. Elliot, The Dry Salvages

Readings

A reading, from the Book of Ecclesiastes:

The end of a thing is better than its beginning;
The patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.

Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry,
For anger rests in the bosom of fools.

Do not say,
“Why were the former days better than these?”
For you do not inquire wisely concerning this.
Ecclesiastes 7:8-10

A song, from The Psalms:

He sends the springs into the valleys;
They flow among the hills.
They give drink to every beast of the field;
The wild donkeys quench their thirst.
By them the birds of the heavens have their home;
They sing among the branches.
He waters the hills from His upper chambers;
The earth is satisfied with the fruit of Your works.

He causes the grass to grow for the cattle,
And vegetation for the service of man,
That he may bring forth food from the earth,
And wine that makes glad the heart of man,
Oil to make his face shine,
And bread which strengthens man’s heart.
Psalms 104:10-15

A reading, from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians:

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?”

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:51-58

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, But he who is impulsive exalts folly.
Proverbs 14:29

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A reading, from the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew

“You have heard that it was said,
‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’

But I tell you
not to resist an evil person.
But whoever slaps you on your right cheek,
turn the other to him also.
If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic,
let him have your cloak also.
And whoever compels you to go one mile,
go with him two.
Matthew 5:38-41

A Qur’anic Homily

Patience is from God.

Near the start of the fifteen chapter is an idyllic scene, a farmer with his cattle:

He created the cattle,
in which there is warmth for you and uses,
and some of them you eat.

There is in them a beauty for you
when you bring them home for rest
and when you drive them forth to pasture.

And they carry your burdens to towns
which you could not reach
except by straining yourselves.

Your Lord is indeed most kind and merciful.
Qur’an 16:5-7

This patience, this time is spent on God’s creation of the feminine: the water, the pasture, the fruits:

It is He who sends down water from the sky; from it you get your drink and with it are the plants wherein you pasture your herds. With it He makes the crops grow for you ad lives, date palms, vines, and fruits of all kinds. There is indeed a sign in that for people who reflect.
Qur’an 16:10-11

And the masculine: the mountains, the hills, and stars:

He cast firm mountains in the earth lest it should shake with you, and streams and ways so that you may be guided — and the landmarks — and by the stars they are guided.
Qur’an 16:15-16

The multitude of the blessings, given by God through time, leads to an irony. There are so many blessings that patience — infinite patience would be needed even to enumerate them:

If you enumerate Gods blessings, you will not be able to count them. God is indeed all-forgiving, all-merciful, and God knows whatever you hide and whatever you disclose.
Qur’an 16:18-19

Whereas the lack of patience leads to ghastly horrors. Men kill baby girls because they wanted baby boys, now, sooner. Thank God for the Mary’s family, that Mary’s namesake was not treated by her father like Moses was by the Pharaoh!

And they attribute daughters to God — immaculate is He — while they have what they desire! When one of them is brought the news of a female, his face becomes darkened and he chokes with suppressed agony. He hides from the people out of distress at the news he has been brought: shall he retain it in humiliation, or bury it in the ground! Behold, evil is the judgment that they make.
Qur’an 16:57-59

This is the underlying unity in Moses’s “eye for an eye” and Christ’s “turn the other cheek.” One can get the justice one is owed. But through patience is Godliness, exceeding mere justice with justice and mercy

If you retaliate, retaliate with the like of what you have been made to suffer, but if you are patient, that is surely for the steadfast.

So be patient and you cannot be patient except with God. And do not grieve for them, nor be upset by their guide. Indeed, God is with those who are Godwary and those who are virtuous.
Qur’an 16:126-128

And yet, this patience from human perspective does not mean that God tarries. The age of a nation’s dominance is but a day to God:

By God, We have certainly sent to nations before you. But Satan made their deeds seem decorous to them. So he is their master today and there is a painful punishment for them.

We did not send down the Book to you except that you may clarify for them what they differ about, and to guidance and mercy for those who have faith.
Qur’an 16:63-64

And the Hour — the hour of judgment — will occur as rapidly as the twinkling of an eye:

To God belongs the Unseen of the heavens and the earth. The matter of the Hour is just like the twinkling of an eye, or shorter. Indeed, God has power over all things.
Qur’an 16:77

Have faith in God, have patience in God. He formed you, slowly and fast, like any parents know:

God has brought you forth from the bellies of your mothers while you did not know anything. He invested you with hearing, sight, and the hearts, so that you may give thanks.
Qur’an 16:78

Impatience is the root of disbelief. We do not see with our own eyes the dead walk, and so we assume it cannot happen. But the Hour approaches, and God resurrects whom He will:

They swear by God with solemn oaths that God will not resurrect those who die. Yes indeed it is a promise binding upon Him, but most people do not know.
Qur’an 16:38

Polytheism can be thought of as a lack of patience. No one says that Mammon the God of Wealth can raise the dead, or has a garden at the end of time, but the benefits of worshiping money appear right now. (Note also, for what its worth, God referring to God, a Lord referring to a Lord):

God has said,

“Do not worship two gods. Indeed, He is the One God, so be in awe of Me.”

To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and the earth, and to Him belongs the enduring religion. Will you, then, be wary of other than God?
Qur’an 16:51-52

But people think the lack of immediate punishment means they can keep secrets from God, and the lack of obvious miracles mean the absence of God. Both are arrogant attitudes that separates the soul from God:

Undoubtedly, God knows whatever they hide and whatever they disclose. Indeed, He does not like the arrogant. When they are asked, “What is is that your Lord has sent down?,’ they say, ‘Myths of the ancients.”
Qur’an 16:23-24

The love of impatience, the root of polytheism, can be Satanic. Satan’s goal is to steal the past and the future from the soul, leaving it in a perpetual, endless Now. The false gods — money, pride, wealth, and so on — will fall away, even from the sinner. Their will will not be done. God will be worshiped. Or the self. None other.

When the polytheists sight their partners, they will say “Our Lord!” These are our partners whom we used to invoke besides You.: But they will retort to them: “You are indeed liars!” They will submit to God on that day, and what they used to fabricate will forsake them.”
Qur’an 16:86-87

This is what makes the promise and hope of Abraham so striking. Abraham lived a complete life, aware of the past in the Chalcedees, and the promise of the future. God is a God of Promise, the God of patience, and Abraham patiently lived in that promise:

Indeed, Abraham was a nation, obedient to God, a hanif, and he was not a polytheist. Grateful for his blessings, he chose him and guided him to a straight path. We gave him good in this world, and in the Hereafter he will indeed be among the righteous. Therefore, We reveled to you,

“Follow the creed of Abraham, a hanif, who was not a polytheist.”
Qur’an 16:120-123

As a chapter, The Bees is one of the most natural. The lessons are part of the natural religion that should be available to all, even without supernatural revelation, as long as one can see and think.

God sends down water from the sky with which He revives the earth after its death.

There is indeed
a sign in that for people who listen.
There is indeed
a lesson for you in the cattle:

We give you to drink pure milk,
pleasant to those who drink,
from what is in their bellies,
from between waste and blood.
And from fruits of date palms and vines
you draw wine and goodly provision.

There are indeed
signs in that for people who exercises their reason.
Qur’an 16:65-67

And not just cattle, God sends the bees and cares for them. Be patient with the Lord:

Have they not regarded the birds disposed in the air of the sky: no one sustains them except for God. There are indeed signs in that for people who have faith.
Qur’an 16:79

And not just birds. Consider all the good works — the architecture, the honey, the society — even God grants bees as they work in time. Consider how much more you can accomplish, surely God loves you as much as a bee:

And your Lord inspired the bee: “Make your home in the mountains and on trees and the trellises that they erect. Then eat from every fruit and follow meekly the way of your Lord.” There issues from its belly a juice of diverse hues, in which there is a cure for the people. There is indeed a sign in that for people who reflect.
Qur’an 16:68-69

The Author

The Bees is fascinating because maybe no chapter since The Heifer is as confusing as to authorship. The writer uses Trinitarian formulas to describe the Gospel:

He sends down the angels with the Spirit of His Word to whomever He wishes of His servants: “Warn that there is no god except Me; so be wary of Me.”
Qur’an 16:2

And yet the post-Christian influence is there — both because the author suggests questions be directed to the “people of the reminder”:

We did not send before you except as men to whom We revealed. Ask the People of the Reminder if you do not know with clear proofs and scriptures. We have sent down the Reminder to you so that you may clarify for these people that which has been sent down to them, so that they may reflect.
Qur’an 16:43-44

And more on the nose, the author rejects the view that a previous non-Arab speaker is the true source of his teaching:

We certainly now that they say, “It is only a human that instructs him.” The language of him to whom they refer is non-Arabic, while this is a clear Arabic language.”
Qur’an 16:103

And to whom the Lectionary (qur’an) is, at least in some form, already present:

When you recite the Lectionary, seek the protection of God against the outcast Satan. Indeed, he does not have any authority of those who have faith and put their trust in their Lord. His authority is only over those who befriend him ad those who make a partner.
Qur’an 16:98-100

Is this one author or two? A Trinitarian who looks at Christians as similar to Jews, and is associated with a non-Arabic teacher? I don’t know. And what to claim of the ongoing, Trinitarian revelation that is inspiring the author:

When We change a sign for another in its place — and God knows best what He sends down — they say, “You are only a fabricator.” Indeed, most of them do not know. Say, the Holy Spirit has brought it down duly from your Lord to fortify those who have faith and as a guidance and good news for those who submit.
Qur’an 16:101-102

I don’t know. In my mind there is a picture of a decaying post-Arian community struggling with the lost of the sacraments. An Arab deacon, a genius, giving homilies after training for a Syriac monk, but neither able to celebrate the sacraments.

Maybe that is all an illusion.

Conclusion

The sixteenth chapter of the Qur’an, The Bees, is a meditation on patience. As with other chapters it makes the most sense when taken as a homily that integrates multiple passages of the Old and New Testaments. The author refers to the Qur’an as an already existing book, and also refers to another teacher who may be his direct inspiration.

The river is within us, the sea is all about us;
The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
It hints of earlier and other creation:
The starfish, the hermit crab, the whale’s backbone;
T.S. Elliot, The Dry Salvages

Impressions of “Four Quartets,” by T.S. Elliot

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
Burnt Norton I

Four Quartets is composed of four poems — “Burnt Norton” (1936), “East Coker” (1940), “The Dry Salvages” (1941), and “Little Gidding” (1942). Each of the poems is broken into five parts.

I did not know much about T.S. Elliot before reading The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings last year. After that I was aware that T.S. Elliot vaguely traveled in similar circles to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and in some way considered himself a Christian. Like most I could recognize at best two famous lines, both without context, both from Little Gidding V.

So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

and, even more cliche

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.

The best comparisons for Four Quartets are the literary prophets in the Bible. Like Ezekiel, Elliot alienates the reader to achieve an effect and like Isaiah, Elliot looks toward the Incarnation. Elliot is in dialogue with Jeremiah and John the Revelator over the beginning of the Incarnation, and like the author of Lamentations examines its end.

Like Ezekiel

The prophet Ezekiel and certain post-modern writers use alienation effect to jolt the reader into realizing he is reading. Elliot combines the prophetic and post-modern styles, drawing attention to the composition of the text to draw attention to its authorship.

Ezekiel alienates his reader in many ways, but the passing mention to his wife is a great example. No one who is paying attention can read the passage and not immediately realize the book he is reading has an author, and the author has chosen to share exactly this level of detail:

So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died; and the next morning I did as I was commanded.
Ezekiel 24:18

Until I read Four Quartets I did not comprehend the alienation effect apparent even earlier in the Bible. The great Biblical translator Robert Alter noted the parts of the Hebrew Bible, especially Genesis and Exodus, are “fraught with background.” They read as if other writing is being incorporated by reference, and the comprehensibility of text can suddenly decline. This is often used as evidence of the Documentary hypothesis, that the Hebrew Bible had multiple authors and with “redactors” whose actions betray a lack of artistic unity. Surely passages like this are evidence of an ancient and half-remembered source-text?

Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn.”‘

And it came to pass on the way, at the encampment, that the LORD met him and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son and made it touch his feet, and said, “Surely you are a bridgeroom of blood to me!” So he let him go. Then she said, “You are a husband of blood!” — because of the circumcision.

And the LORD said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So he went and met him on the mountain of God, and kissed him. So Moses told Aaron all the words of the LORD who had sent him, and all the signs which He had commanded him. Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel.
Exodus 4:22-29

But Elliot’s text has the same fraughtness, but is unquestionably the artistic work of one man:

On a summer midnight, you can hear the music
of the weak pipe and the little drum
And see the dancing around the bonfire
The association of man and woman
In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie —
A dignified and commodius sacrement.
Two and two, neccesarye coniunction,
Holding eche other by the hand or the arm
Whiche botokeneth concorde
. Round and round the fire
Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles,
Rustically solemn, or in rustic laughter
East Coker I

Naive “higher critics” of the Bible may argue that Ezekiel is simply poorly written, and that Exodus combines multiple strands that were poorly literary together. But no one can accuse Elliot of sloppiness or of being the pen name for a school of intellectuals that span centuries.

Like Isaiah

The prophet Isaiah begins with what appears to be a historic narrative and transitions into poetry that transcends time and even reason. Isaiah promises a male-child — a created being — who is treated as an Egyptian God-King, enthroned with five superlatives, with the claim he is the Creator.

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called
Wonderful,
Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace
Isaiah 9:6

The reign of this Creator-creature will transcend time:

Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
Isaiah 9:7

Elliot combines these themes, just as explicitly and just as cryptically:

The hint half guessed, the gift half
understood, is Incarnation.
Here is the impossible union.
Of spheres of existence is actual
here the past and future
Are conquered, reconciled
The Dry Salvages V

The still point of history, around which everything revolves

At the still point of the turning world. Neither
flesh nor fleshless:
Neither from nor towards; at the still point,
there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither
movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance. I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to
place it in time.
Burnt Norton II

(Un)Like Jeremiah, like John

Elliot takes this one further. The logical consequence of a Creator-creature is that, just as every creature has a mother, so must the Creator. To the prophet Jeremiah, it seemed that this proved the Creator-creature was the point at which logical analysis must end:

Do you not see what they do in
the cities of Judah and
in the streets of Jerusalem?

The children gather wood,
the fathers kindle the fire, and
the women knead dough, to make cakes for
the Queen of Heaven; and
they pour out drink offerings
to other gods, that they may
provoke Me to anger.
Jeremiah 7:17-18

Elliot reads Jeremiah as if there must be sarcastic quotes around the Queen of Heaven noted in Jeremiah. Elliot’s Queen is a woman adored by God, as recorded by John:

Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.

And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne. Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.
Revelation 12:1-6

Elliot prays:

Lady, whose shrine stands on the promontory,
Pray for all those who are in ships, those
Whose business has to do with fish,
and those concerned with every lawful traffic
And those who conduct them
Repeat a prayer also on behalf of
Women who have seen their sons or husbands
Setting forth, and not returning:
Figlia del tuo figlio [daughter of your son],
Queen of Heaven
.
Also pray for those who were in ships, and
Ended their voyage on the sand, in the sea’s lips
Or in the dark throat which will not reject them
Or wherever cannot reach them the sound of the sea bell’s
Perpetual angelus.
The Dry Salvages IV

Like the Lamentations

Elliot’s focus is the Incarnation — the life, death, and resurrection of Christ — as the focus of history. Within this triptych it is blood, death, and Good Friday which is the center of the center

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood —
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.
East Coker IV

And the total abandonment of the Passion:

but conscious of nothing — I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing;
wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing;
there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness of the dancing
East Corker III

As the Lord sacrificed Zion

How lonely sits the city
That was full of people!
How like a widow is she,
Who was great among the nations!
The princess among the provinces
Has become a slave!

She weeps bitterly in the night,
Her tears are on her cheeks;
Among all her lovers
She has none to comfort her.
All her friends have dealt treacherously with her;
They have become her enemies.
Lamentations 1:1-2

He also sacrificed her daughter, her King:

It would be they same at the end of the journey.
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade
And the tombstone.
Little Gidding I

The eldritch horrors of Elliot:

The river is within us, the sea is all about us;
The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
It hints of earlier and other creation:
The starfish, the hermit crab, the whale’s backbone;
The Dry Salvages I

match the blasted, earlier creations, of history:

The Lord has purposed to destroy
The wall of the daughter of Zion.
He has stretched out a line;
He has not withdrawn His hand from destroying;
Therefore He has caused the rampart and wall to lament;
They languished together.

Her gates have sunk into the ground;
He has destroyed and broken her bars.
Her king and her princes are among the nations;
The Law is no more,
And her prophets find no vision from the Lord.
Lamentations 2:8-9

Out of the whale came the prophet Jonah, who shared the good news with gentiles.

Out of Jerusalem, the corrupted city of the Temple, came the flowing blood of Christ.

End

Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now always —
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
Little Gidding V