02/22/2012 09:23 pm ET Updated Apr 23, 2012

Exposition of John 1:5 from T.S. Eliot poem "Ash Wednesday from Gerontian"

With ash and soot we begin this Lenten season with confession and a reflection from the following poem:

"If the lost world is lost,
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The word without a word, the Word within
The word and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent word."
-- T.S. Eliot, Collected Poems 1909-1962, 92

This poem was written 11 years after Eliot's 1927 Christian conversion. Clearly, the image of the silent but living word, uttered into and uncomprehending darkness, continued to unsettle him. In "Ash Wednesday," section V, Eliot recognizes being bound by the world's incomprehension by describing himself as a pilgrim caught between "dying and birth." He tries to settle himself down from the world's distractions to hear the word, or to recapture his zeal of life since
his conversion 11 years earlier.

As we commence our Lenten journey on Ash Wednesday, I ponder on the metaphors that are prevalent in the Gospel of John of "darkness" and "light." These images are metaphors that describe the moral conditions of humanity, which displays our sinful proclivities, a need for heavenly wisdom, righteousness and truth. Because of our sin, we as humans face a terrible antagonism, a fearful negative that presents us a constant struggle of being seekers of the divine light. The ancient light which broke over the childhood of humanity, the brighter beams
which fell on consciences that are misguided by "works righteousness" as the means to achieve salvation. The light which was focused in the incarnate Logos and diffused in all the "entrance of the Divine Word" into the heart of humanity.

From this poem, our hope in our Lenten journey comes from the first line quoted referencing John chapter one "If the lost world is lost, if the unheard spoken, word is unspoken unheard; still something remains."

Even in our "darkness," or failure to comprehend the light, still there is a vibrant word in the world's care. "Light shineth in darkness" (verse 5) and the darkness apprehended it not. Although the darkness (our sinful nature) is disastrous and as a Lutheran I would say concupiscent, we have life from one who from eternity has within himself the potency of this transition. We can describe this power and potency by affirming "The light shone in darkness and against the Word the unstilled world still whirled," but even as it whirled, focused on its own empty clatter, it whirled. "About the centre of the silent word."