Eliot contemplation in Burnt Norton of a still point evokes a certain, difficult to describe concept where the vagaries and mere appearances of life can fall away. There is a certain existential movement in the poem and mediation on the confrontation of reality. Eliot is searching around for a poetic space somehow outside of time which confronts reality.
Kierkegaard does something similar — but only similar — in his sermon “What it means to seek God.” In way, one could say that Eliot is trying to seek God. But for all its beauty and evocation, I’m not sure that Eliot provides us with any sure guide to find this place. The bird who calls us along is a metaphor and our passage is imagination. Kierkegaard opens up a different possibility.
This sermon “On the Occasion of a Confessional Service” begins with a prayer to God “who is all of things most near.” This raises an idea which is developed in various ways throughout this sermon: how exactly is God either close or near? Is God nearer is some physical or temporal location? Or, how does one go about seeking God?
He begins the sermon with the idea of seeking “stillness” and “confession.”
What he emphasizes at the first is utter existential solitude with God which takes place in confession. When we come to death and when we come to confession, we are alone with God. No other person can come into that space. “For whoever is intent upon confession is solitary, aye, as solitary as one who is dying.”
And it is this still place to which we aim to come in confession. This still place is difficult to find amid the distractions of life.
There are two notes which K. makes upon this still space. First, it is impossible to purchase entrance into this place. And one in, it is impossible to force your way in. This does not mean that entrance is without some cost. Entrance comes at the greatest of all possible prices. But once you have achieved entrance, it cannot be taken away. Second, the world seeks to drown out this stillness: it is an attempt to avoid “God’s voice of judgment in solitude.”
When one enters into this place, there is no condemnation of any other: In this stillness, one is pressed with an accounting for one’s own sins. The sins of others are of no account to the one confessing. The only who condemns here is the “One who sees in secret” and the one who hears the confession. It is this extraordinary space that K. refers to as the stillness.
Why then would one come to this place? Because in confession on is seeking God. This is the “way that leads to salvation.” In this place of confession, one does not forgive oneself even the slightest sin: all is known to God and all is confessed. And in this place of complete admission of sin, of confession of sin one comes to confront
He summarizes the first movement of this sermon as follows:
The penitent seeks God in the confession of sin. And the confessional is the way, and on the way of salvation, it is a place of prayer, where there is pause, where reflection concentrates the mind.