Spirituality of the Readings
Do Go Gentle
Jesus’ words in this week’s Gospel are consoling.
Come to me,
all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart,
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.
A great comfort, these promises. Whenever death or loss or suffering descend upon us, there is a safe place to go.
But aren’t these words hard to trust?
The alternative viewpoint is given by Dylan Thomas, the poet. He was not wiser than Jesus, of course, but he wrote this to his dying father:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.*
Rage is quite different from rest, isn’t it? In the same poet’s great poem, “Fern Hill,” Thomas says,
Oh as I was young and easy
in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
Green and dying. Chains. Dylan Thomas was a raggedy man, who, if rumor is true, drank himself to the death he dreaded. He loved his youth and sang glad song to it, but death always stood waiting, and it could not break the chains death wrapped around him. Jesus also said his yoke was easy, but he went through torture and death. How can this be?
Here is an approach. Maybe labor and burdens are not meant to be erased from our lives, not expunged or thrown away. Instead maybe they are meant to be pathways to a solid ground far underneath our troubles, into a quiet grounding where there is real stillness and rest.
What quiet grounding?
Jesus says it is meekness and humility of heart.
In the desert Jesus had already told the devil that the only food Jesus needed was “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Maybe the only real goods in life are those rooted firmly in the love that is God, together with meekness and humility, which are Jesus’ life.
“Watch me,” he says. “I am meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass” (First Reading). Here is a paraphrase the rest:
Watch me on the sad height of Calvary and see. I have let it all go—belongings, beloveds, reputation, all. One thing remains. In it I find my rest. Make it your life, whatever your sorrow is, whatever act of living and of dying and being burdened you suffer. It will not be heavy. This is the center of my life and the reason my burden is light.
Love of God, received and given.
If we can begin to let go into the arms of the Great Love, if we can give our life away—as an alternative to raging—we might find rest from our burdens. We might see that death is the ultimate act of giving ourselves away. Jesus did this, in the midst of his burdens. Meek and humble of heart he was, not proud and above it all.
Try it: take your troubles and release them gratefully to the one who can give you rest.
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University