April 6, 2013

REFLECTIONS: MERLE STEVA As the poet Rilke writes: 'So we live here, forever taking leave'

- "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied."

I Corinthians 15:19

It is a far distance back to when I was growing up on an Iowa farm. The span of my life encompasses 85 years. Now you know.

It pleasures me looking back to think of there to here as my Odyssean journey. Evenings sometimes I am visited by reviving impressions ... ephemerally whisking me backward across the years. Often while my stereo traces yesterday's melodies, memory and song will do a slow waltz within the shadow of that eternity embracing all our years. I muse upon how quickly I have come to this time in my life. Not that my end is necessarily imminent...but being up front about my impending finish means that it shall not catch me unaware.

The poet Rilke essays what I am thinking in his Duino Elegies. In a Stephen Mitchel translation, Rilke muses:

Who has twisted us around like this, so that

no matter what we do, we are in the posture

of someone going away? Just so, upon

the farthest hill, which shows him his whole valley

one last time, he turns, stops, lingers,

so we live here, forever taking leave.

Just so! Having arrived at my ninth decade, I am among those who for one last time stop, turning toward the past that I might linger over what catches memory's fancy.

Musing over photo albums and perusing old letters ... even reading again some of the mentoring literature that helped to give me a voice for ministry -- all these further abet memory's poignant examination of days gone by. It is my desire to think about those roads in my life -- taken and not taken. I want to visit once more those crossroad-places where I chose one way over the other, giving me the face I wear today.

"So we live here, forever taking leave." What is done...is done! What yet shall be ... shall be! Now I ask, to what end this business of living? The question out-distances the mind's reaching. I settle for the enigmatic character of my place in the universe.

Inwardly, I continue to be in awe of the wonder of my being. Inwardly, I am persuaded that there is a God who designed life, imperatively seeding me with an appetite for resurrection. The Resurrection Gospel persuades me. Admittedly, in this world I shall always be in "the posture of someone going away." The "where to" is not on any map accessible to me. Still, I hold as Emily Dickinson did when, writing to some dear friends after her mother's death:

"I believe we shall in some manner be cherished by our Maker -- that the One who gave us this remarkable earth has the power still farther to surprise that which He has caused. Beyond that all is silence ..."

The Rev. Merle G. Steva is minister of visitation at the First Parish Church in Saco.

REFLECTIONS is a column written by members of Maine's faith-based community. Opinions expressed in the column reflect the author's view and not necessarily that of the newspaper.

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