Friday, January 13, 2012

Long Day’s Journey into Light - Reynolds

 In 1941, Eugene O'Neill, often described as America's greatest playwright, wrote an autobiographical play which he described as "a play of old sorrow."  It was so personal that it was not produced until after O'Neill's death in 1953.
It's called “Long Day's Journey Into Night.”  It's a tortured look at O'Neill's own family history, a day in the life of the "Tyrone family," their wretchedness fully exposed with uncompromising honesty: the mother a drug addict, father and two sons also addicted, but to alcohol rather than morphine.  Melancholy clings to the play like poison gas.  From morning through evening, the play follows the family into darkness.
Many people believe that life's like that—a long journey into night, an unending struggle gradually falling into endless darkness.  History without hope.  Death without resurrection.  I suppose we all wonder about it at times.
As we face 2012, there seems ample evidence for pessimism and despair.  Many look ahead with fear.  
On the local scene, there is economic instability, unemployment, bankruptcies, line-ups at food banks, and homeless people on the streets.  We see marriages breaking up, family life breaking down, confusion and confrontation over moral and social issues: sexuality, abortion, and euthanasia.
Nationally, we see lack of confidence in our political leadership, a sense of national disunity, a desperate and meaningless search for a sense of national identity and culture (at best a "cut flower culture" with no roots in any sense of national purpose or destiny), and a national debt out of control and escalating at an unbelievable rate.
In the world around us: war, terrorism, nation states breaking into ancient tribal units, the slaughter of the innocents, starvation, oppression, and ever increasing pollution and climate change.
We know the whole morbid litany too well.  
Understandably some say that human history, life itself, is one long journey into darkness.  Somewhere I read these words quoted from Harper's Magazine:
It is a gloomy moment in the history of our country.
Not in the lifetime of most people has there been so
much grave and deep apprehension; never has the future
seemed so incalculable as at this time.  The domestic
economy is in chaos.  Our dollar is weak throughout the
world.  Prices are so high as to be utterly impossible.
The political cauldron seethes and bubbles with
uncertainty. It is a solemn moment. Of our troubles,
no one can see the end.
We can allow ourselves to be overcome by such reports and all sorts of pessimistic predictions.  But things aren't all bad.  For instance, the quotation I just read was taken from Harper's Weekly, October, 1857.
There is no doubt that the present time is a time of anxiety. We've got to come to terms with some very present realities.  We are being forced to learn that we cannot continue to live as we have been living—so much at the expense of our earth and of others.  We simply cannot keep going, expending, consuming, the way we have been doing.  Not for very long.
There is a need for more responsibility in facing the challenges of our time: less personal greed, more concern for the common good.
The problems are great, no denying that.  But if we are to persevere in seeking solutions, we must surely have some hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that human history does have a purpose, and that God is in fact "working His purpose out.” Surely we must believe that all our struggles are not simply futile effort and our lives ending in the eternal darkness of death.  Surely we must believe that every effort we make in the cause of justice and righteousness makes its own small contribution in the ongoing purpose of our existence.
Our attitude is all important. And there are now already too many who believe that what they do doesn't matter, that it's best to get what they can out of life while they have the chance. There are too many who believe that the purpose of our living exists in games and parties, for whom "entertainment" is their religion.
If our world is to move into the future with any degree or hope, we must have faith that we are part of a purpose whose ultimate end is the good of all.  We must have some basis for this faith, in spite of the arguments of pessimism and the seeming realities of history.
It's not a coincidence that it is Dag Hammarskjöld, Swedish diplomat and Secretary of the United Nations in the 1950's, who speaks a helpful word.  It comes from that remarkable book we call Markings, which he described as “concerning my negotiations with myself and with God."  He directed that it was not to be published until after his death. He wrote, 
God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in
a personal God, but we die on the day our lives cease
to be illumined by a steady radiance, renewed daily, of
a wonder, the source of which is beyond reason. (p. 64)
Our lives "illumined by a steady radiance."  That's not something in a current news report, not your daily brief inspirational message (though it is "renewed daily").  It's not something within us, dependent upon our digestion or our metabolism of the day.  It's from beyond.  It is in wonder and faith, rather than knowledge, experience or reason.
Arise! Shine!  Your light is come, and the glory of the
Lord is risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover
the earth, and thick darkness the people, but the Lord
will arise upon you, God's glory will be seen upon you....
 The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for
brightness shall the moon give light to you by night;
but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your
God will be your glory (Isaiah 60:1-2, 18).
There's a "steady radiance" for you!
We are entering the season in the church year which we call "epiphany," the season we remember those Wise Ones of old who followed a guiding light to a humble spot where the Christ was born. 
And lo, the star which they had seen in the east went
before them, till it came to rest over the place where
the child lay. When they saw the star, they rejoiced
exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell
down and worshipped Him  (Matthew 2:9-11).
One of my favourite passages in the Bible is the one found at II Corinthians 4:6:
God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness,
has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge
of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
True, we have "this treasure in earthen vessels."  We are afflicted, perplexed, but not crushed, not driven to despair. We may be persecuted, but we are not forsaken.  We may be struck down, but never destroyed. 
So we do not lose heart! . . .  For we look not to the
things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen.  For
the things that are seen are transient; but the things that are
unseen are eternal (II Corinthians 4:16-18).
And, of course, we don't walk alone.  We walk with others of like faith and hope, in community together. 
We need the support of one another.  We need the support of the "community of faith."  Without such support, our own faith dissipates and our hope languishes and dies. Those people who share your search and perhaps sometimes pray for you, how much we need their faith.  Those friends of yesteryear as well as those now near, those loved ones both here and far away, how much we owe each other. 
We come together, at times, sometimes in emptiness, to seek again spiritual fulfilment.  And it is often through these meaningful others in our lives that we find inspiration and strength.
We have the right to expect some illumination. It may well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering and often weak light that some men and women in their lives and works will kindle and shed over the time span given them on earth.
And isn't this the bottom line, that we help, support and encourage each other in faith and hope.  What greater work to do, whether you are Secretary-General of the United Nations or a semi-invalid confined to bed or wheelchair in a nursing home.
We started with Eugene O'Neill and his tortured spiritual autobiography, Long Day's Journey Into Night.  But for O'Neill himself, this play was not the last word.  He dedicated this play to Carlotta, his second wife, on the twelfth anniversary of their marriage.  Listen to his words of dedication:
For Carlotta, on our twelfth anniversary.
Dearest:  I give you the original script of this play
of old sorrow, written in tears and blood....  I
mean it as a tribute to your love and tenderness which
gave me the faith that enabled me to write this play, write it
with deep pity and understanding and forgiveness.  These twelve
years, Beloved One, have been a Journey into Light.  You know
my gratitude. Gene.


Charles Van Gorkom said...

Well Written and inspiring, your words are infused with the life and spirit of Saviour-God.


Peter Black said...

Charles is so right.
Alan, thank you for this thoughtful, incisive and faith-strengthening piece.

Dorene Meyer said...

I don't think that "as we face 2012, there seems ample evidence for pessimism and despair" - though that is certainly the spin the newscasters gave it when I was listening to the first broadcasts of 2012. But although they tried thier best to sound gloomy, the facts still came through. We are only at 7% unemployment, the lowest I imagine it is possible to go allowing for some unemployability characteristics of individuals, reluctance to relocate, seasonal workers, etc. Other nations have 20% or higher. We are expecting GROWTH. Mortgage rates are staying stable. Housing prizes are stabilized.
We have a great Prime Minister who has led this country wisely and is continuing to do so. We are continually being delegated by the UN as the best country in the world to live in.
I don't think this gloomy attitude of discontent fits us as Christians.
I think we need to have discernment when listening to the media who would project doom and gloom just for the sake of higher ratings.
On a brighter note, I do apprciate your well-written blog posts. It is evident that you put much time and thought into your writing. Thank you for that.

Dorene Meyer said...

Sorry, that should be "housing prices" not "prizes" - should have given it one more read through before hitting "publish."

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