The Holy Sonnets by John Donne (1633)

Spiritual truth is difficult for the rational mind to grasp.  The Bible says the Holy Spirit will guide us to all truth and indeed, absent God’s intrusion our modern minds gravitate to only that which is reasonable – and reason is a hobbled teacher.  We understand this most directly in matters of love, for as Pascal reminds us “The heart has reasons that reason cannot know.”

In his book 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know, Terry Glaspey wrote:

Much is sometimes made of Donne’s struggles with doubt in his poetry, but these poems do not reflect the kind of intellectual struggles that question the reality and existence of God. Instead, as Michael Schmidt reminds us, “His religious struggle was due to an uncertainty about the terms, not the fundamentals, of faith. His problem was not in believing, but in believing rightly, and having accepted right belief, to behave accordingly.” His poems don’t so much make an argument for faith as they show it acted out in a real and honest way, with all the interior wrestling that involves. There is little polite piety to be found in his poems but instead honest human spiritual experience. He wavers sometimes between disgust at himself and spiritual ecstasy but he settles into a reluctant yet hopeful trust in God’s love and mercy.

Donne’s spiritual journey was a quest to overcome his sin and worldliness and replace it with “holy worldliness.” His is not an “other-world” centered spirituality but one that sees the physical life on earth as the arena in which the spiritual life is lived out. “To be spiritual [for Donne] does not require the negation of the earthly, but the cleansing and restoring of it to that condition in which God first created it.” This involved honest self-examination, the embrace of God’s forgiveness, and the acceptance of his love as the balm that heals all our inner wounds.

The abundance of God’s mercy is absolutely central to Donne’s theology, as that is the reality upon which all our hope can rest. Our lives will be a constant and unending struggle against the power of the flesh, but the end of all that struggle has already been determined—we will be embraced by the God who loves us passionately. Through his poems and his other writings Donne is a companion for the trenches of life, the endless battle to live out the grace we have been offered. His impatience with his own failings and his willingness to tear off the veil of piety to express his deepest interior battles and spiritual longings make him the contemporary of every man and woman.

Was there a time when you loved someone beyond reason?

John 1:1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


John Donne

John Donne

John Donne

(1571/2–1631), Metaphysical poet and Dean of St Paul’s. He was a member of a RC family, his mother being the sister of the Jesuit missionary priest Jasper Heywood, and a granddaughter of a sister of Sir Thomas More. He entered Hart Hall, Oxford, in 1584 and possibly studied after this at Cambridge, or perhaps abroad. He entered Thavies Inn in 1591 and transferred to Lincoln’s Inn in 1592. During this period he was much exercised over the problem of his religious allegiance and for a time, according to I. *Walton, ‘betrothed himself to no Religion that might give him any other denomination than a Christian’. By 1598 he had certainly conformed to the Church of England. In 1596 he accompanied Essex and Raleigh to Cadiz and in 1597 to the Azores; and in 1598 became private secretary to the Lord Keeper, Sir Thomas Egerton, a post from which he was dismissed four years later owing to his secret marriage to Ann More, his master’s wife’s niece, in 1601. During the next years he and his growing family lived in poverty and dependence on the charity of friends. Around this period he composed but did not publish Biathanatos, a casuistic discussion and defence of suicide. He found employment in controversial writing and in 1610 wrote the Pseudo-Martyr to persuade Catholics that they might take the Oath of Allegiance. In the next year he wrote a witty satire on the Jesuits, Ignatius his Conclave. After repeated failures to find secular employment he at last complied with the wish of the King and was ordained in 1615. The reason he himself gave for delay was scruple at accepting orders as a means of making a living. In 1621 he became Dean of St Paul’s, where he preached on all great festivals. He was also a regular preacher at court and a favourite with both James and Charles. During a serious illness in 1623 he wrote his Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624), and the famous ‘Hymn to God the Father’. He died in 1631 and was buried in St Paul’s. His monument, showing him standing in his shroud, survived the Great Fire.

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 503–504.

Malcolm Guite

 

Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, ’and bend
Your force, to break, blowe, burn, and make me new. . . .
I like a usurpt town, to another due,
Labor to admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again;
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you’ enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee

 

 

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page.

Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith

 

 

 

Terry Glaspey

 

Terry Glaspey

I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.

Let’s explore together!

Terry

Join the discussion with Terry on Facebook HERE

Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.

He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.

He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:  Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.

Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.

He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.

Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Dig Deeper at TerryGlaspey.com

 

Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Order it HERE today.