I Was Blind…

Truth is never threatened by investigation.  Lean hard on her and she will not topple.  Shine light on her and her purity becomes more evident.  In an age of saturated fake news, our hearts despair and tilt toward cynicism, but our longing for Truth persists.

In Satire III by John Donne, we join the poet in his quest.  We also find great encouragement to know that God welcomes the doubts of an honest seeker.  As Malcolm Guite writes in The Word in the Wilderness:

The Church would do well to learn from this. The serious doubter, the sincere enquirer, the person who hesitates a long time on a threshold, these are all people to be honoured and encouraged, not, as is so often the case, either demonized or cajoled.

Continue reading “I Was Blind…”

Batter My Heart by John Donne

untitledBatter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d 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 lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem


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 today’s poem by John Donne, we see this on full display.  To fulfill the greatest commandment, our love for God must be one of unmitigated passion, and the poet acknowledges his wavering heart. In The Word in the Wilderness, Malcolm Guite says this:

Now it’s personal. If the call to God to stop tinkering seemed too mechanistic, and the siege warfare too grandiose and impersonal, now we come to the heart of things and the true intimacy. Now the quest to be re-united and ‘right’ with God becomes, paradoxically the yearning away from the mere institution to the call of true love. In an age of arranged marriages, Donne who himself had incurred the wrath of his patron and a term in prison for marrying for love, knew what it was to have a true love frustrated and constrained by external forces. It is a daring and helpful image to think of God as the secret lover to whom we yearn in spite of all the current institutional commercial and consumer forces, our forced marriage to secularism, that try to keep us from him!

Was there a time when you loved someone beyond reason?

How does that inform your understanding of the greatest commandment?

Matthew 22:36–40

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”  Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

 

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

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

 

51vg-xoskvl-_sy346_For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.

Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.
Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.
Josephine R. Unglaub

Art: Conversation, designed and created by Josephine R. Unglaub

Unglaub is a German-based artist and photographer with a passion for surrealism. Her work can be found here: https://lemanshots.wordpress.com

When He Came To Himself

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The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

HOLY SONNET VII
JOHN DONNE

At the round earth’s imagin’d corners, blow
Your trumpets, Angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scatter’d bodies go—
All whom the flood did and fire shall o’erthrow,
All whom war, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you whose eyes,
Shall behold God, and never taste death’s woe.

But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space,
For if, above all these, my sins abound,
‘Tis late to ask abundance of thy grace
When we are there; here on this lowly ground,
Teach me how to repent; for that’s as good
As if thou hadst seal’d my pardon with thy blood.


Being a Christ follower requires repentance.  The word means “turning away” and indeed, following Jesus means turning away from sin.  His teaching singularly called his listeners back from the rebelliousness of sin to a heart of obedience.  His lessons were not only motivational; they were commandments.  He said that love for Him would be demonstrated by obedience (John 14:15) and He likewise told His apostles to “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:20).

In the parable of The Prodigal Son found in Luke’s gospel, the Bible says the young man returned to his father when “he came to himself” (Luke 15:17).  We have all experienced the regret of sinful choices, but sometimes it’s just the regret of getting caught or being in bad circumstances.  When the regret is one that calls our heart to long for God and His forgiveness, we are finally ready to go home.

 

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Hebrews 3:7–19

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, In the day of trial in the wilderness, Where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, And saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, And they have not known My ways.’ So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’ ” Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Art: Return of the Prodigal Son, by Rembrandt van Rijn, Holland, Circa 1668

In the Gospel According to Luke (15: 11-32), Christ relates the parable of the prodigal son. A son asks his father for his inheritance and leaves the parental home, only to fritter away all his wealth. Arriving at last at sickness and poverty, he returns to his father’s house. The old man is blinded by tears as he forgives his son, just as God forgives all those who repent. This whole work is dominated by the idea of the victory of love, goodness and charity. The event is treated as the highest act of human wisdom and spiritual nobility, and it takes place in absolute silence and stillness. The drama and depth of feeling are expressed in the figures of both father and son, with all the emotional precision with which Rembrandt was endowed. The broad, sketchy brushstrokes of the artist’s late style accentuate the emotion and intensity of this masterly painting. This parable in Rembrandt’s treatment is addressed to the heart of everyone: “We should be glad: for this son was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.”

 

Literature: HOLY SONNET VII by John Donne. The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne. Edited by C. M. Coffin. New York: Modern Library, 1952.

Donne calls on angelic trumpets to summon all of humanity, living and dead, for judgment. But then he reverses himself and says, “Wait! I need time for repentance.” At the end, he suggests, with a touch of irony, that he needs not only the divine gift of God’s own life but also the grace of a repentant heart to reassure him that God truly intends his good.