Infinite Love says: “Pull up a chair. Join me. Let’s dig in.”

George HerbertGeorge Herbert was a vicar in the Church of England as well as one of the most beloved poets of the 17th century. The monasteries on England were no more, but it is clear that neither all-out devotion to God nor mystical experience had disappeared. Herbert wrote many poems expressing a deep, affective devotion and an imagination awakened to God’s infinite love as found in Jesus.

The following poem is one of his best.  It assumes knowledge of the New Testament’s simple teaching, “God is love.”  With connotations of the communion rite, it describes our hesitancy to accept the grace of God. “Can I really join You, be with You, without becoming perfect first, without having earned the right?”

The poem had a momentous effect on the 20th century philosopher and social activist  Simone Weil, as we will see in the next installment.

Love III

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
                             Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                             From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                             If I lacked any thing.

“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here:”
                             Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
                             I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
                             “Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
                             Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
                             “My dear, then I will serve”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat:”
                             So  I did sit and eat.

Quotation marks added to clarify who's speaking. 

“Whatever struggles you have, transfer them to Me”

Sorry, fans, for the longest delay ever!  Travels, new jobs, new schools, hurricanes, bees, sin.

The conclusion of our series from John Amos Komensky. The pilgrim responds to Jesus’ welcoming words. He tells Jesus he will do whatever Jesus asks, to be nothing, so that Jesus will be everything.

Chapter 39

Their Betrothal

Jesus replies,

I accept this from you, my son.  Hold to this, become, call yourself, and remain my own. Mine, indeed, you were and are from all eternity, but you did not know it. I have long prepared for you that happiness to which I will now lead you; but you did not understand what I was doing. I have led you to yourself through strange paths and by round-about ways; you did not know this, nor what I, the ruler of all my chosen ones, intended. Neither did you perceive by what means I worked on you. But I was everywhere with you, and therefore somewhat guided you through these crooked paths, that I might at last bring you even closer to me.  Neither the world, your guides, nor even Solomon could teach you. There is no way that they could enrich you, content you, satisfy the desires of your heart, because they didn’t have what you were searching for. But I will teach you everything, enrich you, and content you.

“This only I demand of you: that whatever you have seen in the world, and whatever struggles you have witnessed among people, you should transfer it to me, and lay the burden of it on me. This as long as you live, shall be your work and your task; of that which men seek there in the world, but don’t find—that is, peace and joy—I will give you in abundance.”

From Komensky’s The Labyrinth of the World.  As with many of our selections this one is taken from The Protestant Mystics, selected and edited by Anne Fremantle, with an introduction by W. H. Auden. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1964. I have modernized some of the syntax and vocabulary for contemporary readers.

The Second Glimpse

Continuing with Lewis’s memoir. Note how this excerpt (and the next) show literature, books, as the vehicle for the mystical experience. These experiences had this one effect among others: They contributed to Lewis’s tremendous love of and life-long dedication to poetry and stories. 

Somewhat the same thing happened to me as a child. Books such as A Wrinkle in TimeThe Outsiders (S . E. Hinton), The Lord of the Rings, and Lewis’s own Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Last Battle provided this kind of unspeakable joy and longing and a glimpse of something quite beyond the story and the walls of the world around me. Has it happened to you?

The second glimpse came through Squirrel Nutkin; through it only, though I loved all the Beatrix Potter books. But the rest of them were merely entertaining; it administered the shock, it was a trouble. It troubled me with what I can only describe as the Idea of Autumn. It sounds fantastic to say that one can be enamored of a season, but that is something like what happened; and, as before, the experience was one of intense desire. And one went back to the book, not to gratify the desire (that was impossible–how can one possess Autumn?) but to reawake it. And in this experience also there was the same surprise and the same sense of incalculable importance. It was something quite different from ordinary life and even from ordinary pleasure; something, as they would now say, “in another dimension.”  –C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1955. @ C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd.

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Photo by Sandis Helvigs on Unsplash

Joy

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We begin with C. S. Lewis for several reasons. His influence as a writer has been as great as anyone who wrote of a mystical experience in recent times. He bridges the ancient and modern worlds, and he bridges the wildest Romanticism with the most prosaic Church of England. Today he is still considered one of the greatest experts in medieval and Renaissance literature.  He could be a rigid logician and he always bested his opponents (with perhaps one exception) during public debates at Oxford, but his life’s course was set by a childhood experience beyond all reason.

This example of a mystical experience is not unique in its occurrence during childhood, but it is nearly unique in how articulate the author is able to describe it some 45 years after the fact.  But then, as he says later, “in a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else.” 

…..The thing has been much better done by Traherne and Wordsworth, but every man must tell his own tale.

The first is itself the memory of a memory. As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not fo years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought me his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton’s “enormous bliss”of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to “enormous”) comes somewhere near it.  It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what? not, certainly, for a biscuit tin filled with moss, nor even (though that came into it) for my own past. [“Oh, I desire too much.”] –and before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased. It had taken only a moment of time; and in a certain sense everything else that had ever happened to me was insignificant in comparison.

–C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy. New York: Harcourt, Brace & C0., 1955. @ C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd.

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