Thursday, 25 November 2010

How I spend my light

I got something of an early Thanksgiving present on Monday from a professor who handed out a copy of Milton's Sonnet 19 to the class in a packet of poetry to be read over the break:

When I consider how my light is spent,
E're 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, least he returning chide,
Doth God exact day labour, light deny'd,
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 milde yoak, they serve him best, his State
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o're Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and waite. 
It is silly, on the one hand, to say that I instantly related to this poem:  as I found out after doing a bit of reading on it, Milton wrote this about his own blindness -- the literal loss of his light.  But it reads equally well as a meditation on the frustration that comes with feeling an inability to do everything one wants to do, feels capable of doing and called to do.  When I read the poem, I was especially full of this kind of frustration (which, if I'm being honest, is never far away), and its conclusion gave me some peace by re-orienting me by the proper way to cope with this feeling:  realizing that the best we can each strive for is to use our individual capacities in a manner pleasing to God -- which could just as well be through standing and waiting as through struggling and striving.

 I'm reminded of this on this Thanksgiving day, with the family laid low by sickness and forced to abandon our plans and instead stand -- or sit, or lie -- and wait.  Although this hasn't been the holiday we all had in mind -- chicken-noodle soup instead of turkey, cranberry juice instead of cranberry sauce -- I've found that it's been easier than usual today to stop and count my blessings.  I have a lot to be thankful for, and as for today, I'm still at home enjoying time with the family, and things could be a lot worse.

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