Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Not without hope we suffer and we mourn

I am finally reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and I wonder where it has been all my life. What other gems might I discover out there in my quest to turn myself into a “master” of literature?

My impression after spending the morning in the first two books is that just about every tale is one of sorrow. The end of each story seems to involve some character left in grief, some virgin unable to escape the clutches of a ravisher, some man unable to attain his woman (cleverly, those are often the same tale), some parent morning the loss of a child. Even before we are given specific characters we are given grief, as the golden age turns into the silver and then to the bronze and then to the iron… there is a sense of a loss of greatness woven into the fabric of great mythology.

And it is Advent. The Christian story is not unique in its story of a Fall, or in the sense of mourning that it carries with it. Rachel is left weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more just as surely as the sap that bleeds from Roman trees speaks of Clymene’s daughters whose grief for their fallen brother Phaethon transformed them into those trees. Who can look at a Raven without suspecting the ominous treachery that brought Apollo to kill his beloved with his son within her womb, anymore than he can look at a serpent without suspecting Eve’s deceiver?

Rather than a rival to paganism, Christianity seems to answer the hopeless cries of Io who suffers for a treachery larger than her mortal scope had concocted and deeper than her mortal strength can escape. Christ’s coming meets the pagan wailer just as completely as the Hebrew wailer, though the former had not known he was waiting for redemption as the latter did. His coming meets this fundamental piece of our humanity: our sense of loss.

Advent is a reminder that we are the Hebrew and not the Pagan; we are in on the secret that redemption is on its way. The wind that blows against the wailing reeds by the riverside may as well tell the tale of Pan and Syrinx; Paul declares that creation has been groaning with the pains of childbirth until now. But we groan with hope, the hope that our groans are heard, that they have-been-are-and-will-be answered, that God has felt our grief as much as the gods did, but actually has power to redeem it.

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