When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God (1).
I last wrote of radical fidelity, of holding and waiting on people we deeply care for, no matter how hard it may be. Now I’m finding that it is time to write of letting up our hold of who we love, to let be what will be, to move on. I’m writing to play the game of Twelfth Night in a way. For, you see, the inspiration of Shakespeare’s title was based within an alteration of Epiphany’s eve, similar to how Mardi Gras or Halloween are alterations of other holy eves. This particular tradition of the twelfth night is characterized by roles switching for the amusement of absurdity: slaves become masters, women become men, and what have you. So, as I argued for radical fidelity before, now I write of conclusions to fidelity.
Currently, I am enrolled for a masters program in Shakespearean Studies in England for this next year, starting in September. In preparation for it, I’ve been sifting through various books to determine what I should write my dissertation on. One particular topic I’ve dug into especially thoroughly is the use of letters in Shakespeare’s plays. Being a far more serious business than it is now, the etiquettes of Elizabethan letter writing was immensely detail oriented and intentional, so much so that many of Shakespeare’s plays make some sort of jab into this epistolary culture’s expense. In Hamlet, for instance, when our Danish prince writes to Claudius upon his return to the kingdom, he (as is noted by Claudius’s reaction) leaves out a proper subscription to his letter — merely writing his name beneath the text, without any social status listed with it — thus being intently rude toward his murderous uncle: having unacknowledged his role of lesser/younger royalty (3). More generally, this subscription can also hold heavy weight in its use of space upon the paper. Because it was so costly and laborious to write a letter (given most materials had to be made fresh upon writing), especially on expensive and high quality paper, the more paper that was left blank, particularly between the letter’s end and subscription, the generally more prestigious or admired the writee were (4). For instance, if I were to write a letter to someone I loved immensely, then I may leave a rather large space between the end of the letter and my name, so to communicate a character of humility below my beloved. That empty space is a vacancy of ten days, of hours between the ascension and pentecost, between the violet and the violet, the sleeping and the waking (as Eliot would write). This is, of course, a rather general example, but I think it should suffice for now being.
The reason I bring up this odd etiquette of Elizabethan letters is not simply because I find it fascinating, which I do, but because I believe this empty space is especially characteristic of distance, of exiting what was and accepting ends in life.
After sending most his disciples into a chaotic mourning of dissolution when Christ died upon a cross and was buried. Or, in other words, when the people who were absolutely certain the man they had followed for three years was going to rise up and destroy the earthy powers, bringing total peace and dominion of the Kingdom of Israel, died miserably on a pole naked, these people were crushed and bewildered rather utterly. So, when Christ rose from the grave and came to these same people to prove His lordship over all, even death, and instruct them further, Christ brought immense joy and excitement to his previously heartbroken followers. However, He only remained with them another forty days. Eventually, He left those He deeply cared for, these greatly confused men and women, to care for themselves, without His presence, for ten days. You could say, after writing a long and amazing love letter, Christ did not write His name till it nearly seemed He wouldn’t.
While being willing to die a billion times, pecking at a wall of diamond for four and a half billion years, or waiting 1,894 years to simply save our beloved, is absolutely a storm of necessary and commanded fidelity and perseverance, we also must be willing to relinquish our saving nature.
I’ve recently picked up Shūsaku Endō’s Silence — partly because I am a huge Scorsese fan, whose next work is Silence’s interpretation — and, as the work delves into the agony matched with God’s silence within utter suffering, it seemed a perfect study for the appreciation of ends. You see, I’ve found that as Christians we struggle with ends; either we obsess over them, claiming a holier-than attitude of segregation to people, or we reject them entirely, claiming total fidelity in the face of every single obstacle that overcomes us. While I believe the latter is closer to the mark than the first, which nears apostasy, it still misses the mark by blinding itself to the fact of ends.
“To love or have loved, that is enough.
Ask nothing further.
There is no other pearl to be found
in the dark folds of life.”
– Victor Hugo (5)
In loving, in giving to any degree, we are propped up against the fact of ends. Mercy can only be given for people not deserving of mercy. Undeserved love falls on undeserved people. Forgiveness necessitates something to be forgiven. If we are surprised when things fall apart, then we have not accepted the fact that in the end everything will do so — except God. It’s okay for things to end, however, even if we might not like it, simply because the end is necessitated by the fact of the beginning. To be rejected, to be called out as a mere ghost, a fake, is simply a premature ending that we must endure.
This does not, however, mean we love less, or care less, or do less, or faithfully fight till our palms bleed less.
Victor Hugo, who’s art and quotes I’ve chosen to showcase for this post, lived in a time of immense suffering for his fellow French countrymen. Death surrounded him, humiliation surrounded him, and he responded to this plague of funerals by writing characters of incredible love, incredible fidelity and suffering. He wrote broken characters drawn into a wretched world and forced to either lose themselves or crawl forward till the waves ceased.
We give ourselves, life entirely, just as a soldier fighting for his freedom, until that giving does no good. We die for each other, until no one would care either way. We love with total surrender until the crowds walk away, until they drop their stones in apathy, until we are left alone because loving simply made us invisible. We love until love means nothing at all.
“The greatest happiness of life
is the conviction that we are loved
— loved for ourselves, or rather,
loved in spite of ourselves.”
– Victor Hugo (5)
I suppose my view or theological discourse around the anagogical interpretation for the Church is that God will give until giving means nothing; He will watch the Church burn until in burning, none care. He will call ends and cut the cords when hope no longer exists, when the only ones left are of utter carelessness for their fate. So, that is to say, He will lie upon the cross — we with Him — until no one looks His way. We will grasp onto the subscript of crucifixion, waiting in the ten days, until the waves crash again, until the letter returns to its address.
The absence of acknowledgement does not diminish sacrificial importance. Just as Christ’s sacrifice did not necessitate those who did not acknowledge Him, so is the truth for our own sacrifice. We may give our life for someone, we may die for our friends as we have been dealt to do, and the object of sacrificial direction may not care to any degree, may even despise our sacrifice, and the fact of our sacrifice means no little. Any sacrifice, whether it be giving our life or merely giving something up for the sake of another, is not defined by the one sacrificed for. Judas, Thomas (initially upon Christ’s resurrection), the thousands of Pharisees, all who cared absolutely nothing for Christ’s sacrifice, have no weight or effect upon the value of Christ’s death. The same stands true for our own.
If we reach a point where we have given all we have to give, if we reach a point where death would be our only sacrifice left, and still no one cares, then it is okay to lay down our arms and crawl past it. Sometimes, perhaps at least once, God may have us give that death, give that life as He gave, and if that is the undeserving mercy we ought to give, then we must certainly give it; that end would simply be our last and final sacrifice, our last and final end. However, if God would not have us embrace this end (and we must listen closely for His desire of us to — else we become lazy in our eagerness for God’s own sacrificing end), then the suffering servant must crawl to where the master sits and, with the master’s crown, continue on the road, until that master becomes the servant again. We must continue our shared descent into ends, while God meanwhile ascends us to His own resurrecting and glorious end.
There is no clear map of when any person ought to ‘let go’ of the uninterested, and we are given a clearer declaration to perseverance till total crucifixion than anything, yet we ought not to claim either as the dominant and perfect route for perfection, for then we are mere legalists. Jesus gave Himself for the undeserving, He gave regardless of disinterest, yet He also acknowledged that to some He will say, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” He does not pretend to forget those who could care less, who cared less than little to pursue Him as He pursued them.
Before, I wrote that I hold to God’s completely perfect fidelity and commitment, no matter any rejection thrown at me. Now, I write the acknowledgement of the darker, or rather harder, side of any declaration of commitment, which is the truth that with every heaven we get a hell, with every light is a shadow, a contrast. We may commit ourselves to one another, we may give all our hearts have in loving someone, and in the end we may come to see that no matter how fervently we pursued them, the “I never knew you” becomes the memory left.
Hugo elsewhere wrote,
“Not being heard is no reason for silence.” (5)
Mercy necessitates the relinquishing of justice, so does loving necessitate the relinquishing of not caring, of not trying, of hating. Someone may not try, someone may be lost, may never be seen again, may care less and less, and yet this does not diminish our duty to love them. Ends will come, even when we fight for an eternal commitment. Ultimately, the only commitment that will not wind up in ends, is our commitment to the One whose own commitment is ceaseless. This mutual commitment of eternity can never fall to a twelfth night, for its mutual bond links it into a limitless eternity. God’s subscript is an eternal return, a pentecostal presence of Himself, which necessitates immense praising (as His disciples responded with, when faced with His ten days of absence), for this subscript does not cease at the letter’s end.
I, whether it is the right decision or not, am now moving to England for a year to try and embrace this end, to let my previous life go. I am doing what we seem to find ourselves doing in this life, hopping between ten days while grasping onto subscripts. I wish I could find something, someone who would keep me here, yet none seem to desire such, all would have this end be, and so I leave to try and find a subscript and another ten days of absence.
I leave you, thus, with this final quote,
“You’ll feel so homesick that you’ll want to die,
and there’s nothing you can do about it
apart from endure it.
But you will, and it won’t kill you.
And one day the sun will come out and
you’ll realize that this is where your life is.”
– Brooklyn, 2015
Feel free to read my prior post, From the man who waits.
Luke 24:50-53, ESV
Victor Hugo, Pieuvre avec les initales V.H., 1866
Shakespeare’s Letters, Alan Stewart, p.54
Les Misérables, Victor Hugo, 1862
Victor Hugo, My Destiny, 1857
Victor Hugo, The Dead City, 1850
Brooklyn, Nick Hornby, 2014
Novel of same name, Colm Tóibín, 2009