Little Gidding

Among my favorite lines from T.S. Eliot’s rich, challenging, mystical poem Little Gidding are these:

And what you thought you came for

Is only a shell, a husk of meaning

From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled

If at all. Either you had no purpose

Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured

And altered in fulfilment.

(“Little Gidding” I – lines 31-36 from “The four Quartets”)

We do not know what we are we are being prepared for. At any given time, we have only a partial understanding of what we are about, what our work will enable or promote, how we are participating in the designs greater and grander than our own goals. We enter into conversations, projects, conferences, contracts, and relationships with our own intentions and hopes, but if we are adults, we have lived long enough, to know that those change along the way.

So, when we ask for our hopes to be fulfilled or our intentions to come to fruition, it might be wise to keep in mind that those intentions themselves will likely be “altered in fulfillment.” We may find that something quite different from what we thought we wanted was, in fact, what we needed after all. Parents of children with disabilities, partners of spouses with painful pasts, clergymen of congregations with hidden wounds – all of them learn this. What they have they would not known to ask for, would not have had the courage to ask for, but when it is given, it becomes a vocation to live into with unexpected blessings, though they may come with unwanted challenges.

Our purposes are always “beyond the end we figured.” This is good news. What is unfolding, lotus-like, around us is a kaleidoscopic design, to which every generation and every life add new colors. To ask for what is altered fulfillment, is to acquiesce joyfully to the human condition of uncertainty – that is the prerequisite for Divine surprise.

Hear our prayer, O Lord: bless, protect and sanctify all those who bow their heads before You.

Blessings to all,

Fr. Michael A. Costanzo

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