The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer's art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.
Our health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam's curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.
* * * * * * * *
The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood--
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.
"East Coker" is the second of T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets. Written in 1940, just two years before I was born, it is the
most explicitly Christian of the quartets. It is named for the village in Somerset, England, that was the home of
Eliot's first ancestor to leave for America in the 17th century.
The poem is concerned with renewal. In this, its fourth section, Eliot describes an army hospital staffed by a
"wounded surgeon" and a "dying nurse" where patients are led through pain to death and thence to salvation.
The section ends with a reference to Good Friday, the day of Christ's crucifixion.
It has always spoken to me of Jesus and his death on humanity's behalf. It tells of the ultimate good of the force
behind the universe, despite all the pain and suffering caused by war and sickness and even our own sin and
God allows us to be mean and small because we're human, but he also challenges us to be better than we
are--to transcend ourselves--and he's given us the example of the wounded surgeon whose body and blood we
share on a weekly basis. Through Jesus and his wounds, God is continually renewing his creation and making it
better than it is--showing us how to treat each other better than we so often do, challenging us to love each other
with the love he's shown each of us.
I pray regularly that God will renew himself in me and live and love through me to his glory.