I like it when I'm ambushed by a poem. Reading an article on the way the Bible is interpreted in English poetry, this celebrated poem by John Milton was referenced. The lines recount the anguished questioning of a poet whose sightless eyes now frustrate his main talent, writing poetry. The resolution achieved by patience is an ideal and obedient spiritual response. And I'm left wondering whether for Milton such reluctant surrender was unattainable aspiration or complaint uttered as obedience to unchangeable circumstance?
On His Blindness
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere 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
My true account, lest he returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
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
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."
The mind that conceived Paradise Lost, was imaginative, interrogative, dealt in complexity of motive and soul, was familiar with the inner terrain of temptation, guilt, remorse and the longing for forgiveness and heaven. Perhaps that last line is indeed a resolution - "They also serve who stand and wait"; then again, when it comes to making sense, understanding, coming to terms with life-changing personal loss, there will always be the question mark after a phrase such as 'light denied'.
Sometimes faith is knowing you don't know, living with ambiguity, trusting we are held even in our falling, letting go of the love that even then will not let us go.That's when faith becomes more than 'sweet trust', and feels the stern demand of another great literary artist who shared Milton's "superb imagining": Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11.1)
Blakes etching of the Trinity is a beautiful image of the love that will not let us go, especially when we no longer find the strength to hang on.