The Poet’s Inspiration

William Shakespeare

Act 5, Scene 1

The poet’s eye in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

Continue reading “The Poet’s Inspiration”

Under The Aspect Of Eternity

Lightness of Being, by Chris Levine, 2004

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

From all this it now follows that the content of ethical problems can never be discussed in a Christian light; the possibility of erecting generally valid principles simply does not exist, because each moment, lived in God’s sight, can bring an unexpected decision. Thus only one thing can be repeated again and again, also in our time: in ethical decisions a man must consider his action sub specie aeternitatis and then, no matter how it proceeds, it will proceed rightly.”

1 Corinthians 1:26–31

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.

Rick WilcoxEngland’s Elizabeth II is the longest-reigning monarch in British history. By all accounts she has held her role with deep regard for its responsibility to history and the British people.  She is famously private and guarded of her personal beliefs and emotions.

In 2004, artist Chris Levine, while commissioned to take her official portrait, caught the image shown here in between takes as she rested her eyes.  The meditative state of repose is engaging because it makes her somehow more accessible, more human.  We can almost sense her thoughts.  If you know a little about her, you might know of her beloved Corgis. The dogs have been associated with the Royal Family for years. Queen Elizabeth says she enjoys her Corgis because they don’t know she is Queen.

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” wrote Shakespeare in King Henry the Fourth, and we get it.  It’s the feeling of modern adulthood. We are jugglers, plate spinners and multi-taskers in the kingdom of our own making.  No matter how hard we try to surround ourselves with props and material possessions to make us feel successful and accomplished, we all know that, as Montaigne said, “on the loftiest throne in the world we are still only sitting on our own rump.”

The Germans have a word for this condition: Zerrissenheit (loosely, “falling-to-pieces-ness”).  This is the loss of internal coherence that can come from living a multitasking, pulled-in-a-hundred-directions existence. This is what Kierkegaard called “the dizziness of freedom.”  When external constraints are loosened, when a person can do what he wants, when there are a thousand choices and distractions, then life can lose coherence and direction if there isn’t a strong internal structure.

It’s what happens when we make ourselves our own God.

The folly of this lifestyle can only be remedied by seeing the world through God’s eyes – sub specie aeternitatis – under the aspect of eternity.

In plain talk, what that means is that only God’s perspective matters. Regardless of what other people think of us (good or bad) or what society says is right or wrong, the only measure of our life is how obedient we are to God.

All of the importance and significance we seek in pleasures and material possessions is completely misplaced.  We are the pinnacle of God’s creation and our self worth is realized through the reconciliation of grace back into His fellowship.


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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.


D I G  D E E P E R

Sub specie aeternitatis

Latin for “under the aspect of eternity”, is, from Baruch Spinoza onwards, an honorific expression describing what is universally and eternally true, without any reference to or dependence upon the temporal portions of reality.

In clearer English, sub specie aeternitatis roughly means “from the perspective of the eternal”. Even more loosely, the phrase is used to describe an alternative or objective point of view.

Spinoza’s “eternal” perspective is reflected in his Ethics (Part V, Prop. XXIII, Scholium), where he treats ethics through a geometric investigation that begins with God and nature and then analyzes human emotions and the human intellect. By proceeding sub specie aeternitatis, Spinoza seeks to arrive at an ethical theory that is as precise as Euclid’s Elements. In the history of philosophy, this way of proceeding may be most clearly contrasted with Aristotle’s manner of proceeding. Aristotle’s methodological differences in his “philosophy of human affairs” and his natural philosophy are grounded in the distinction between what is “better known to us” and things “better known in themselves,” or what is “first for us” and what is “first by nature” (discussed, among other places, at Metaphysics Z.3, 1029b3–12), a distinction that is deliberately discarded by Spinoza and other modern philosophers.



Karl Marx: Modern (1818–1883)


A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of Communism. All the Powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Czar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.
Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as Communistic by its opponents in power? Where the Opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of Communism, against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries?
Two things result from this fact.
I. Communism is already acknowledged by all European Powers to be itself a Power.
II. It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of Communism with a Manifesto of the party itself.
To this end, Communists of various nationalities have assembled in London, and sketched the following Manifesto, to be published in the English, French, German, Italian, Flemish and Danish languages.

William Shakespeare

ALON. Now all the blessings
Of a glad father compass thee about!
Arise, and say how thou cam’st here.
MIR. O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in ’t!
PROS. ’Tis new to thee.

PSALM 37:4–6

Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heartCommit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, and He will do it. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light and your judgment as the noonday.

When Thomas More wrote Utopia in 1516, he couldn’t have known he was coining a term that would be used for centuries to describe a perfect world. He wasn’t the first of course. Brilliant thinkers like Plato tried, alas in vain, to describe it. We are no different. We think our imaginations would suffice if we could only have this or that or some other thing, but it’s simply impossible because we can’t see the whole picture, nor can we eliminate man’s sinful nature. Just when we think we’ve envisioned our brave new world, we discover that we, like Shakespeare’s Miranda in The Tempest are only marveling at what actually is common and flawed.

John Mark Reynolds said this in his book, The Great Books Reader:

Karl Marx wanted the world to be better than it was. He wanted an end to poverty, hunger, and ignorance. He revered science and was well read. He looked at the modern West and rejected both the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian foundations of that culture. He believed history was inevitably moving past both and that secularism and Communism were the future.

Marx, at least philosophically, must be credited with good intentions, but his ideas have been applied badly. Any great idea can be perverted—Christians know this from experience—but Marxism has never been applied to a society without being perverted.

To many, this suggests that there’s something deeply wrong at the heart of the project. The likely root of the problem was that an honest desire to make things better was pushed in Marx, as for many other men, to utopian extremes. Attempting to make a fallen world better than it can be will break things better left unbroken. It will empower men to do great deeds, but great men fit for such deeds may be too rare for the challenge.

Which is more Christian; Capitalism, Socialism or Communism? Why?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.



John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.


D I G  D E E P E R

Reflections on the Communist Manifesto

Hunter Baker

We sometimes have trouble convincing people that they should care about what luminaries like Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas wrote. Part of the trouble with being modern is that we have a prejudice against the old. I can recall listening to an atheist at a public meeting argue vociferously that today we’re much more intelligent than men like the American Founders and, therefore, should not defer to them. With suitable rhetorical flourish, I would say it is “self-evident” that such a statement is untrue!

However, I write this short response to the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx (and Friedrich Engels), not because of the profound insights that should be learned and made part of our own intellectual armamentarium, but instead because the work in question exerted a massive influence on recent history and arguably led to a half century of intense (yet “cold”) conflict in which two huge portions of the globe glared at each other across a chasm of spiritual/ideological division and simmering nuclear conflagration.

The United States is a nation founded on the basis of certain strong political principles having to do with social contract, freedom, limited government, and exceptions to power brought together by the providential fusion of both Christian and classical sentiments.

Approximately 130 years later, the Soviet Union was similarly founded on political ideals (though much different ones) as it rocketed along into a supposedly “inevitable” future on the vehicle of Marx’s historical analysis of class struggle. For a long time, many—even those who loved America—feared that the Soviets would indeed triumph.

Whittaker Chambers, who successfully exposed Alger Hiss (his former colleague in Soviet espionage), sadly wrote that he felt he had left the winning side for the losing one when he decided to turn his back on the Marxist cause.


What to say about this incredibly consequential document? In truth, Marx’s analysis was reductive in the extreme as he boiled down the entirety of human history to the class struggle. Because the entire narrative is founded on this idea, it is vulnerable to questions about the premise. Is class really the most important aspect? What about race, ethnicity, family/clan, village, the nation-state? The Marxist revolution covered over these factors and held them in check through extraordinary coercion, only to see them spontaneously surge back into prominence when the Berlin Wall came down.

And what of his view of religion? His assumption that it’s merely an “opiate of the people” was all too easy and dismissive. He completely disregarded the possibility that religious truth could arise from events in time, space, and history, such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which served as Paul’s “proof” to the men of Athens that his assertions about God’s character were grounded in reality.

Marx’s greatest error of all may have had to do with his view of human sin. Ranging over the history of class struggle, this revolutionary thinker dwelt upon the injustice of the propertied group oppressing their dispossessed brethren. The inequities that developed so dramatically with the rapid progress of the Industrial Revolution inspired his rage. He saw man treating his fellowmen as though they were mere commodities, cogs in a machine to perform deadening, unskilled work in never-ending repetition. Yet, somehow, he was able to easily believe that human beings—those same creatures who’d created the systems he found so evil—would then turn around and employ state power magnitudes above what previously had been known to bring about a socialist paradise. The assumption that an enlightened vanguard would prove much more trustworthy with power than those who held it before now seems quite naïve.

The authors of the Manifesto declared that the transition to its society of the future would require a “dictatorship of the proletariat.” But they imagined the period of dictatorship would come to an end as a new stage, the “withering away of the state,” took hold. At that point, there would no longer be a need for much coercion, as men would no longer struggle against each other but would live in harmony while experiencing the necessary leisure to fully develop their interests.

The Soviet Union, the world state that served as the pioneering Marxist experiment and the most powerful exemplar of the species, featured increasingly onerous dictatorship without much withering. Looking back, disappointed Marxist/socialists lament that Russia was the wrong country, or that the methods were wrong, or that Stalin was wrong. But the insight such persons have missed, as Martin Malia pointed out in The Soviet Tragedy, is that “the Soviet experiment turned totalitarian not despite its being socialist, but because it was socialist.” The domination of private property by the state radically undermines civil society and places individuals into such dependence that they’re unable to stand up for the preservation of their freedoms.

It has been on this point that many leftists have been blind. They protest that Castro’s Cubans may not have “civil rights,” but “economic rights” instead. Do they, indeed, have those rights? Or are these rights merely the reward of subsistence in exchange for obedience?

So read this most potent Manifesto and gain insight into the struggle for the world that dominated the twentieth century.

Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D. is an associate professor of political science and university fellow for religious liberty at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. He is the author of three books on politics and religion and has published in a wide variety of other outlets. He is also a research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and an affiliate scholar of the Acton Institute.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).

William Shakespeare: Early Modern (1564–1616)


Act II, Scene I
A hall in Leonato’s house


LEONATO: Was not Count John here at supper?
ANTONIO: I saw him not.
BEATRICE: How tartly that gentleman looks! I never can see him but I am heart-burned an hour after.
HERO: He is of a very melancholy disposition.
BEATRICE: He were an excellent man that were made just in the midway between him and Benedick: the one is too like an image and says nothing, and the other too like my lady’s eldest son, evermore tattling.
LEONATO: Then half Signior Benedick’s tongue in Count John’s mouth, and half Count John’s melancholy in Signior Benedick’s face,—
BEATRICE: With a good leg and a good foot, uncle, and money enough in his purse, such a man would win any woman in the world, if a’ could get her good-will.
LEONATO: By my troth, niece, thou wilt never get thee a husband, if thou be so shrewd of thy tongue.
ANTONIO: In faith, she’s too curst.
BEATRICE: Too curst is more than curst: I shall lessen God’s sending that way; for it is said, “God sends a curst cow short horns;” but to a cow too curst he sends none.
LEONATO: So, by being too curst, God will send you no horns.
BEATRICE: Just, if he send me no husband; for the which blessing I am at him upon my knees every morning and evening. Lord, I could not endure a husband with a beard on his face: I had rather lie in the woollen.
LEONATO: You may light on a husband that hath no beard.
BEATRICE: What should I do with him? dress him in my apparel and make him my waiting-gentlewoman? He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man: and he that is more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a man, I am not for him: therefore, I will even take sixpence in earnest of the bear-ward, and lead his apes into hell.
LEONATO: Well, then, go you into hell?
BEATRICE: No, but to the gate; and there will the devil meet me, like an old cuckold, with horns on his head, and say “Get you to heaven, Beatrice, get you to heaven; here’s no place for you maids:” so deliver I up my apes, and away to Saint Peter for the heavens; he shows me where the bachelors sit, and there live we as merry as the day is long.
ANTONIO: [To HERO] Well, niece, I trust you will be ruled by your father.
BEATRICE: Yes, faith; it is my cousin’s duty to make curtsy and say “Father, as it please you.” But yet for all that, cousin, let him be a handsome fellow, or else make another curtsy and say “Father, as it please me.”
LEONATO: Well, niece, I hope to see you one day fitted with a husband.
BEATRICE: Not till God make men of some other metal than earth. Would it not grieve a woman to be overmastered with a pierce of valiant dust? to make an account of her life to a clod of wayward marl? No, uncle, I’ll none: Adam’s sons are my brethren; and, truly, I hold it a sin to match in my kindred.
LEONATO: Daughter, remember what I told you: if the prince do solicit you in that kind, you know your answer.
BEATRICE: The fault will be in the music, cousin, if you be not wooed in good time: if the prince be too important, tell him there is measure in every thing and so dance out the answer. For, hear me, Hero: wooing, wedding, and repenting, is as a Scotch jig, a measure, and a cinque pace: the first suit is hot and hasty, like a Scotch jig, and full as fantastical; the wedding, mannerly-modest, as a measure, full of state and ancientry; and then comes repentance and, with his bad legs, falls into the cinque pace faster and faster, till he sink into his grave.
LEONATO: Cousin, you apprehend passing shrewdly.
BEATRICE: I have a good eye, uncle; I can see a church by daylight.
LEONATO: The revellers are entering, brother: make good room.

Like many, I was raised on the King James Bible.  I memorized verses written in 1611, and thought prayers must include “thee and thou” to make it to God’s ear.  Reading the Bible in a modern translation was transformative to me, but I always return to the KJV for poetic beauty.

Reading Shakespeare is no different.  It’s helpful to invest a little time in studying the mechanics and grammar to fully appreciate the work, but ultimately, the beauty of the language should flow to your ears like fluid music.

As John Mark Reynolds said in his book The Great Books Reader:

One advantage most of us have is that we know Shakespeare is good. We know that most films or plays we actually like have stolen a line or an idea from Shakespeare. There’s no pop cultural facet in which the Bard cannot make an appearance.

My own passion for Shakespeare came after I worked on the language. I had to stop being embarrassed for not knowing older English and simply work to learn the vocabulary and speech patterns as if it were a foreign tongue. Looked at this way, Shakespearean English is the easiest “second language” most of us will ever learn!

Is it possible to fully enjoy literature without understanding its grammar?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.



John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.


D I G  D E E P E R

On Much Ado About Nothing

Melissa Schubert

Some of us can be tempted to dismiss comedy as taking reality too lightly. But here’s why I take comedies seriously: they present and celebrate the world in which we survive our own and others’ mistakes, follies, transgressions, and deep sins. However lightly, dimly, or bleakly, comedies revel in our survival—in the delaying of death and the staying of the curse. Comedies tell the story of ruined folk somehow avoiding ruin.

The world turns out to be sufficiently ample, elastic, wide, and often bountiful, even for we who’ve been exiled from paradise. Sometimes the happy vision is as meager an offering as the survival of the thwarted villain still mired in all his disdain for the universe. But its happiest pictures include long-awaited reunions, the practice of forgiveness, and weddings—festive unions between undeserving lovers that promise even more life for the community and love for the world.

And so we have Shakespeare’s delightful play, Much Ado About Nothing. One primary subject (and a subject of all of his comedies) is love struggling toward marriage. Marriage is the goal of the lover’s quartet (Beatrice and Benedick, Hero and Claudio) as well as the goal of the community in Messina. Marriage is proposed, by the play, as a happy situation, not only for the characters of the play but also for the city. Benedick has it right when he proclaims, “The world must be peopled.”

But the road to union is thick with obstacles, those present in the self and those presented by others. The self-identified “plain-dealing villain,” Don John, sets himself against the formation of community both by refusing peace with his brother and by making himself an enemy to marriage. He takes his only pleasure in spoiling others’ happiness.

Claudio, whose naiveté leaves him vulnerable to Don John’s villainy, falls for the ruse that suggests Hero’s infidelity because his knowledge of and faith in her is insubstantial. Hero is much more a victim of her own lover’s mistake than of her own fault. She must—and what a profound task—forgive him his wrongs.

Beatrice, reluctant to submit to another in love, not wishing to be mastered, must learn to see Benedick as something besides a threat to her freedom. Benedick fears marriage, too, expressing anxiety about cuckoldry, so he postures himself as above it all.

The path for none of the four is smooth since, even in small and familiar ways, they stumble as they approach love and happiness. Thus they arrive at their happy ending not by the natural trajectory of character but by a series of delicate interventions.

Beatrice and Benedick’s friends employ their very faults to steer them toward loving each other. Human creatures need one another’s generous help. Often we’re most helped when our community can witness our faults and offer gentle correctives.

The other chief trick of the play is Hero’s feigned death for Claudio’s real sins. Here is where we see most deeply the insistence that it’s possible that, in the end, we will not get what we deserve, we will not suffer the full consequence of our sins, but we will be saved.
Notably, the redemption hinges on the luxury of time, a resource notably absent in Shakespeare’s tragedies. In Hamlet, the time is out of joint. Macbeth’s destruction seems wildly rapid. Bad timing governs both Romeo’s and Juliet’s deaths. But in Much Ado, there’s enough time—time for mistakes, for discovery, for repentance, for repair, for forgiveness.

With the provision of time comes also a call to patience, the sort most admirably displayed in Hero’s suffering. Here is a faithful image of life on earth: where we must sit and talk to clarify misunderstandings, where we abide winter’s waiting for the spring, where it takes time for criminals to come to justice, where love buds long before it blossoms. Here is a summons to Christian hope in light of the world’s story, this divine comedy, where, even in the face of the direst realities, we look for the resurrection of the dead and the blessed life of the glory to come.

Melissa Schubert is an assistant professor of English Literature at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute. She is currently a doctoral candidate at Claremont Graduate University.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).


Why Did My Parents Send Me To The Schools? by John Davies

Why did my parents send me to the Schools,
That I with knowledge might enrich my mind?
Since the desire to know first made men fools,
And did corrupt the root of all mankind:

Even so by tasting of that fruit forbid,
Where they sought knowledge, they did error find;
Ill they desir’d to know, and ill they did;
And to give Passion eyes, made Reason blind.

For then their minds did first in Passion see
Those wretched shapes of misery and woe,
Of nakedness, of shame, of poverty,
Which then their own experience made them know.

But then grew Reason dark, that she no more,
Could the faire forms of Good and Truth discern;
Bats they became, that eagles were before:
And this they got by their desire to learn.

All things without, which round about we see,
We seek to know, and how therewith to do:
But that whereby we reason, live and be,
Within our selves, we strangers are thereto.

We seek to know the moving of each sphere,
And the strange cause of th’ebs and floods of Nile;
But of that clock within our breasts we bear,
The subtle motions we forget the while.

We that acquaint our selves with every Zone
And pass both Tropics and behold the Poles
When we come home, are to our selves unknown,
And unacquainted still with our own souls.

We study Speech but others we persuade;
We leech-craft learn, but others cure with it;
We interpret laws, which other men have made,
But read not those which in our hearts are writ.

Is it because the mind is like the eye,
Through which it gathers knowledge by degrees −
Whose rays reflect not, but spread outwardly:
Not seeing itself when other things it sees?

No, doubtless; for the mind can backward cast
Upon her self her understanding light;
But she is so corrupt, and so defac’t,
As her own image doth her self affright.

Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem


How well do you know yourself?  As Facebook says, “it’s complicated.”  Since the oracle of Delphi uttered ‘Nosce Te Ipsum!’ (know thyself!) our best and finest writers have struggled to articulate the quest.  Into this fray came John Davies in the late 16th century.  A contemporary of William Shakespeare and Ben Johnson, Davies composed a 2,000 line poem that takes us to task on self-knowledge.

For the next three days, we look to Davies’ poem for insight.  In The Word in the Wilderness, Malcom Guite wrote:

What we need is the kind of self-knowledge that would lead us to understand that we are not self-made, and would put ourselves and our world into better perspective. Davies exclaims upon the strange paradox of our sophisticated knowledge of the world set against our wilful self-ignorance, and, anticipating both Freud and Jung, suggests that we prefer to hide ourselves rather than know ourselves because we are afraid of what we might find:

For the mind can backward cast
Upon her self her understanding light;
But she is so corrupt, and so defac’t,
As her own image doth her self affright.

Davies’ response to this insight is not flight or cynicism, the two characteristic responses of our own age, but rather courageous exploration.

How has your understanding of yourself evolved?

Proverbs 20:5

Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.

Dig Deeper: Literature & Liturgy

John Davies

John Davies

(1569–1626). The Englishman John Davies distinguished himself as a poet and as a statesman. His famous work Orchestra, or a Poem of Dancing reveals a typically Elizabethan pleasure in the contemplation of the correspondence between the natural order and human activity.

Davies was born in April 1569 in Tisbury, Wiltshire, England. Educated at the University of Oxford, he was called to the bar in 1595. On the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, Davies was one of the messengers who carried the news to James VI of Scotland, who succeeded Elizabeth as James I. James received him with great favor, sent him to Ireland as solicitor general, and conferred a knighthood on him. In 1606 Davies was made attorney general for Ireland. He took an active part in the Protestant settlement of Ulster, a province in the northeastern part of the island of Ireland, and wrote several tracts on Irish affairs. He entered the Irish Parliament and was elected speaker in 1613, and after he returned to England he sat in the English Parliament of 1621. He was appointed lord chief justice in 1626 but died later that year, on December 8, before taking office.

Much of Davies’ early poetry consisted of epigrams. Epigrammes and Elegies by J.D. and C.M. (1590?) contained both Davies’ work and posthumous works by Christopher Marlowe; it was one of the books the archbishop of Canterbury ordered burned in 1599. Orchestra (1596) is a poem in praise of dancing set against the background of Elizabethan cosmology and its theory of the harmony of the spheres. In Nosce teipsum (1599; Know Thyself), he gave a lucid account of his philosophy on the nature and immortality of the soul. In the same year he published Hymnes of Astraea in Acrosticke Verse, a series of poems in which the initials of the first lines form the words Elisabetha Regina in honor of Queen Elizabeth. A volume of his collected poems was published in 1622.

“Davies, John,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).


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.

ART: Narcissus

Alternative name: Narcissus (Caravaggio)
Date: c.1599
Style: Baroque
Genre: portrait
Media: oil, canvas
Dimensions: 110 x 92 cm
Location: National Gallery of Ancient Art (GNAA), Rome, Italy

Crossing The Rubicon

Julius Caesar and the Crossing of the Rubicon by Granacci, Francesco (1469 – 1543)

William Shakespeare

K. Rich. A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!
Cate. Withdraw, my lord; I’ll help you to a horse.
K. Rich. Slave, I have set my life upon a cast
And I will stand the hazard of the die:
I think there be six Richmonds in the field;
Five have I slain today instead of him.
A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!

ROMANS 10:10

For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Rick WilcoxWhen Julius Caesar led his army across the Rubicon river on January 10th in 49 BC, he violated the law (the Lex Cornelia Majestatis) that forbade a general to lead an army out of the province to which he was assigned. His act thus amounted to a declaration of war against the Roman Senate and resulted in the three-year civil war that left Caesar ruler of the Roman world. As he crossed he proclaimed “the die is now cast” meaning he was breaching a point of no return.

“Crossing the Rubicon” became a popular phrase describing a step that commits a person to a course of action. It applies well when a new believer repents of his old life and commits everything to Jesus Christ.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon had a wonderful sermon about this saying

“If Caesar crossed the Rubicon, there would never be peace between him and the senate again. He draws his sword, and he throws away his scabbard. Such is the act of baptism to the believer. It is the crossing of the Rubicon. It is as much as to say, ‘I cannot come back again to you. I am dead to you. And to prove I am, I am absolutely buried to you. I have nothing more to do with the world. I am Christ’s and Christ’s forever.”


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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.



D I G  D E E P E R

Julius Caesar and the Crossing of the Rubicon by Granacci, Francesco (1469 – 1543)

Francesco Granacci trained in Florence, with Michelangelo, in the workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio, and the two then studied sculpture in the Medici garden at S Marco under the supervision of Bertoldo di Giovanni. Granacci was an important member of the Ghirlandaio’s workshop during the 1490s before going to Rome in order to assist Michelangelo in painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. According to Vasari, Granacci was often employed by the Medici to design scenery and festive decorations.

This panel shows an episode from the life of Julius Caesar, narrated in Suetonius’ Lives of the twelve Caesars , retelling the crossing of the Rubicon by Cesar and his troupes. While the story took place in the 1st century B.C., the figures and the setting are presented in a Renaissance fashion, which drew upon the Antiquity especially in the representation of armours. This panel was most likely made to celebrate a patrician wedding and illustrates therefore a heroic virtue such as political leadership that was much sought after by the Renaissance elite. The present painting forms a pendant with E.373-2006 as they represent the lives of two heroes respectively Greek and Roman, the two civilisations that dominated the Antique Western World.

C. Suetonius Tranquillus, Suetonius

The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

Coming up with his troops on the banks of the Rubicon, which was the boundary of his province, he halted for a while, and, revolving in his mind the importance of the step he was on the point of taking, he turned to those about him, and said: “We may still retreat: but if we pass this little bridge, nothing is left for us but to fight it out in arms.”

While he was thus hesitating, the following incident occurred. A person remarkable for his noble mien and graceful aspect, appeared close at hand, sitting and playing upon a pipe. When, not only the shepherds, but a number of soldiers also flocked from their posts to listen to him, and some trumpeters among them, he snatched a trumpet from one of them, ran to the river with it, and sounding the advance with a piercing blast, crossed to the other side. Upon this, Caesar exclaimed, ” Let us go where the omens of the Gods and the iniquity of our enemies call us. The die is now cast.”


Victoria and Albert Museum

C. Suetonius Tranquillus, Suetonius: The Lives of the Twelve Caesars; An English Translation, Augmented with the Biographies of Contemporary Statesmen, Orators, Poets, and Other Associates, ed. Alexander Thomson (Medford, MA: Gebbie & Co., 1889).

James Montgomery Boice, Romans: God and History, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991–), 1210.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Confession with the Mouth” in Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 9 (Pasadena, Tex.: Pilgrim Publications, 1969), p. 400.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

William Shakespeare, The Plays and Sonnets, ed. Mortimer J. Adler et al., Second Edition., vol. 24, Great Books of the Western World (Chicago; Auckland; Geneva; London; Madrid; Manila; Paris; Rome; Seoul; Sydney; Tokyo; Toronto: Robert P. Gwinn; Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1990), 147.

E. Cobham Brewer, ed., Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (London; Paris; Melbourne: Cassell and Company, Limited, 1895), 353.

The Twelfth Day Of Christmas



Light comes back
as it always does
just before Christmas Day
like finding a treasured keepsake
forgotten in attic recesses
and I start to think about Hoovering up
brittle evergreen needles,
fingering the stubborn ones
out from a wooly carpet’s fibers.

Light comes back slowly
tracing an ancient arc
across the winter sky
and I kneel on hardwood
straining to scoop up
a stray ornament
from a dusty corner
just out of reach
with sunlight
dappling my vision.

Light comes back
with a promise
silent as the stars—
this simple, tender flesh
covering our hands
wrinkling our knees
layering our faces
shall be seen
revealed as a divine gift
for this world
indeed, an epiphany.

The evening of this day is Twelfthnight, the end of the Christmas season and the prelude to the season of Epiphany or “manifestation,” which celebrates the moments when we become newly aware of God at work in our world, meeting us even in the midst of our everyday lives.

Twelthnight was formerly kept as a time of merry-making and associated with many old customs such as taking down the Christmas decorations. In Herefordshire there was a tradition of lighting 12 bonfires, representing the Twelve Apostles, to secure a blessing on the fruits of the earth, and similar practices prevailed elsewhere. The ‘Twelfth Cake’ was an ornamented cake made for the occasion, containing a bean or coin, the drawer of which became the ‘King’ or ‘Queen’ of the festivities.

Twelfthnight is traditionally the time to clear out the evergreens brought indoors to decorate for Christmas. The speaker of this poem, working through this chore and momentarily blinded by the low winter sun, rediscovers the grace of Incarnation—God’s daring to become one of us in the Baby of Bethlehem—and the hope of Epiphany.


Isaiah 60:1

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.


Dig Deeper

Art: William Hamilton – The Revelation of Olivia’s Betrothal, from “Twelfth Night,” Act V, Scene i 

Literature:  A Silent Promise by Jay Emerson Johnson (1961– )
Raised in a conservative Evangelical context, Jay Johnson became an Episcopalian while in college and is a priest in the Episcopal Church. He has served parishes in Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area. He is also a scholar in the field of theology and the author of Dancing with God: Anglican Christianity and the Practice of Hope. He has the custom of writing an Advent/Christmas greeting to his friends in poetic genre, one of which appears in this collection.

Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night, or What You Will was written to be performed as a Twelfth Night entertainment. The earliest known performance took place at Middle Temple Hall, one of the Inns of Court, on Candlemas night, 2 February 1602. The play has many elements that are reversed, in the tradition of Twelfth Night, such as a woman Viola dressing as a man, and a servant Malvolio imagining that he can become a nobleman.

Ben Jonson’s The Masque of Blackness was performed on 6 January 1605 at the Banqueting House in Whitehall. It was originally entitled The Twelvth Nights Revells. The accompanying Masque, The Masque of Beauty was performed in the same court the Sunday night after the Twelfth Night in 1608.[14]

Robert Herrick’s poem Twelfe-Night, or King and Queene, published in 1648, describes the election of king and queen by bean and pea in a plum cake, and the homage done to them by the draining of wassail bowls of “lamb’s-wool”, a drink of sugar, nutmeg, ginger and ale.

Charles Dickens’ 1843 A Christmas Carol briefly mentions Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present visiting a children’s Twelfth Night party.


Twelfth Night—an allusion to the night of festivity preceding the Christian celebration of the Epiphany—combines love, confusion, mistaken identities, and joyful discovery.

After the twins Sebastian and Viola survive a shipwreck, neither knows that the other is alive. Viola goes into service with Count Orsino of Illyria, disguised as a young man, “Cesario.” Orsino sends Cesario to woo the Lady Olivia on his behalf, but Olivia falls in love with Cesario. Viola, in the meantime, has fallen in love with Orsino.

At the estate of Lady Olivia, Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s kinsman, has brought in Sir Andrew Aguecheek to be her suitor. A confrontation between Olivia’s steward, Malvolio, and the partying Toby and his cohort leads to a revenge plot against Malvolio. Malvolio is tricked into making a fool of himself, and he is locked in a dungeon as a lunatic.

In the meantime, Sebastian has been rescued by a sea captain, Antonio. When Viola, as Cesario, is challenged to a duel, Antonio mistakes her for Sebastian, comes to her aid, and is arrested. Olivia, meanwhile, mistakes Sebastian for Cesario and declares her love. When, finally, Sebastian and Viola appear together, the puzzles around the mistaken identities are solved: Cesario is revealed as Viola, Orsino asks for Viola’s hand, Sebastian will wed Olivia, and Viola will marry Count Orsino. Malvolio, blaming Olivia and others for his humiliation, vows revenge.

A Little More

In Chapter 6 of Harrison Ainsworth’s 1858 novel Mervyn Clitheroe, the eponymous hero is elected King of festivities at the Twelfth Night celebrations held in Tom Shakeshaft’s barn, by receiving the slice of plum cake containing the bean; his companion Cissy obtains the pea and becomes queen, and they are seated together in a high corner to view the proceedings. The distribution has been rigged to prevent another person gaining the role. The festivities include country dances, and the introduction of a “Fool Plough”, a plough decked with ribands brought into the barn by a dozen mummers together with a grotesque “Old Bessie” (played by a man) and a Fool dressed in animal skins with a fool’s hat. The mummers carry wooden swords and perform revelries. The scene in the novel is illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne (“Phiz”). In the course of the evening, the fool’s antics cause a fight to break out, but Mervyn restores order. Three bowls of gin punch are disposed of, and at eleven o’clock the young men make the necessary arrangements to see the young ladies safely home across the fields.


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

L. William Countryman, Run, Shepherds, Run: Poems for Advent and Christmas (New York; Harrisburg, PA; Denver: Morehouse Publishing, 2005)

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night Or, What You Will, ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine (Folger Shakespeare Library, n.d.)


To Time’s Analysis



Emily Dickinson

The Lilac is an ancient Shrub
But ancienter than that
The Firmamental Lilac
Opon the Hill Tonight—
The Sun subsiding on his Course
Bequeathes this final plant
To Contemplation—not to Touch—
The Flower of Occident.
Of one Corolla is the West—
The Calyx is the Earth—
The Capsule’s burnished Seeds the Stars—
The Scientist of Faith
His research has but just begun—
Above his Synthesis
The Flora unimpeachable
To Time’s Analysis—
“Eye hath not seen” may possibly
Be current with the Blind
But let not Revelation
By Theses be detained—

(poem 1241)

1 Corinthians 2:9–10

But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.

We all want a rich life. We also know the futility of trying to create it with things that don’t last. The stack of books on my desk tells me we aren’t the first to feel this way, from the nihilistic skepticism which figures so strongly in the novels of writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose The Great Gatsby chronicles a sad cycle of adultery, suicide and murder amid the supposedly lighthearted atmosphere of the Roaring Twenties to Ernest Hemingway’s failed romances and alcoholic anti-hero which usually end up in something like the atmosphere of his ironically titled short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” There the young waiters counsel suicide and old waiters mockingly pray, “our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name,” or “Hail nothing, full of nothing, nothing is with thee.”

William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury alludes to and is fully developed around the imagery of Macbeth’s despairing, dying proclamation that life itself “is a tale / told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / signifying nothing.”

In  refreshing contrast, Emily Dickinson’s poem 1241, references 1 Corinthians 2:9, one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible which says

“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”

In her poem (popularly titled The Lilac Is An Ancient Scrub) she takes an exception to this verse, suggesting that it “may possibly / Be current with the Blind,” but those who are capable of seeing a sunset might have experienced a glimpse of heaven.

When we brush up against God, we know it.

True enough, because Paul continues in verse 10, “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.”

We are able to imagine, to see in images, what God has prepared for us because of the work of the Spirit. “Let not Revelation / By Theses be detained,” the poem concludes, referring both to Paul’s account of revelation of the Spirit as well as the Book of Revelation, which uses vivid images to describe the heaven that is to come.


The God of creation is still speaking.

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.


D I G  D E E P E R

Lilacs in the Sun and  Lilacs, Grey Weather

Claude Monet

Claude Monet
Claude Monet

Claude Monet painted these two canvases in the garden of his first home in Argenteuil, near Paris, in spring 1872.

Characters are seated under a bush of lilacs in bloom. One of the two paintings is done when the sky is overcast, the other one when the sun shines. For the first time, Monet put his easel on the same spot to study changes in the light. His intention is made clear by the titles he chose.

According to Sylvie Patin, Chief Curator of musee d’Orsay in Paris, where Lilacs,Grey Weather can be seen, these two works can be considered as the first step in direction of the series, a method Monet would apply systematically ten years later.

~Arlette Cauderlier

Emily Dickinson

41DF6PQbFNL__SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Like many of us, Emily Dickinson loved sunsets, “the Firmamental Lilac.” I live a few blocks away from Sunset Park, a narrow strip of grass and flowers perched on a hill above Puget Sound looking out toward the Olympic Mountains in the west. When the sun sets, especially during the summer, the park is full of neighbors who silently watch as the huge glowing orb steadily slips behind the mountains or sinks into the sea (depending on the sun’s position in the horizon). While the Psalms are full of appreciation for the presence of God in huge thunderstorms, I find sunsets one of the places where I am especially attuned to the goodness of God’s creation.

This poem has a deceptive opening, initially appearing to be another one of Dickinson’s flower poems. The syntactically simple first line is straightforward and blunt. The first thing about a lilac that comes to my mind is its sweet fragrance, but the poet singles out its age; it is “an ancient Shrub.” Dickinson’s garden at the Homestead had several lilac bushes, and their ancient quality is evidenced in the fact that some of these shrubs still bloom today, as you can see (and smell) if you visit Amherst in May. The “turn” that appears in so many of Dickinson’s poems shows up already in the second line of what, for Dickinson, is a long poem: “But ancienter than that / The Firmamental Lilac.” Firmament is a grand-old, King-James-Bible, literary word for sky that permeates the Genesis 1 creation story. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” and separated light from darkness. “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.… And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day” (Gen 1:1, 5–8). Sunset, the lilac of the sky, is as ancient as the second day of creation.

But the poem describes the sunset we are witnessing this evening, “The Sun subsiding on his Course” over a nearby hill, which “Bequeathes this final plant.” The day is dying, and the expiring sun leaves as a last inheritance “The Flower of Occident,” the flower of the west. Unlike the ancient shrub of the opening line, however, this plant cannot be physically grasped, or touched. It is left us for “Contemplation.” The stanza breaks here, and the meditation follows in the second stanza.

That meditation opens with an unpacking or explicating of the controlling metaphor of the first stanza: lilac = sunset. Precise botanical terms are used: the corolla is the collective term for the petals of a flower that form a ring around the reproductive organs and are surrounded by an outer ring of sepals; the calyx is the group of sepals, usually green, around the outside of a flower that protects the flower bud; and the capsule is the fruit containing seeds that are released when the flower is mature. Think about a dandelion: its gold petals, green sepals, and mature feathery seeds that are carried away by the wind. Similarly, as a lilac’s flowers fade they develop into brown seed pods. In the sunset, the pinks and lavenders of the western sky are the petals, the green earth the calyx, and the glowing evening stars that gradually emerge are the burnished (shimmering) seeds, as the dying sun gives birth to other distant suns.

This explication uses technical scientific terms, which Dickinson knew from her study of botany at Amherst Academy and employed in constructing her herbarium, and she now mockingly terms herself a “Scientist of Faith,” who conducts “research” and performs the technical activities of “Synthesis” and “Analysis.” Such an approach is limited, however. The research “has but just begun,” and the “Flora” (another scientific term) is “unimpeachable,” impossible to discredit or challenge, so good that it is beyond reproach. Neither unpacking the metaphor nor scientifically explaining flowers/sunsets capture the full glorious reality, which can only be perceived for oneself. Twenty poems about sunsets do not even begin to approach the beauty of a single living sunset.

Line 17 quotes 1 Cor 2:9, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” The poet takes exception to this verse, suggesting that it “may possibly / Be current with the Blind,” but those who are capable of seeing a sunset might have experienced a glimpse of heaven. Indeed, Paul continues in verse 10, “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.” We are able to imagine, to see in images, what God has prepared for us because of the work of the Spirit. “Let not Revelation / By Theses be detained,” the poem concludes, referring both to Paul’s account of revelation of the Spirit as well as the Book of Revelation, which uses vivid images to describe the heaven that is to come. Theses, argumentative propositions associated with analysis and synthesis, ought not to detain the magnificent revelation of God granted to us through a sunset. If we open our eyes of faith, with the help of the Spirit, we will see God.


Susan VanZanten, Mending a Tattered Faith: Devotions with Dickinson, ed. Clayton J. Schmit and J. Frederick Davison, Art for Faith’s Sake (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), 71–72