Monday, March 31, 2014

Lent, Day Twenty-Seven: Confluence

Over the weekend, while driving here and there running errands in my car, I listened to an interview by Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio with Gerald McDermott on a recent book he cowrote on The Theology of Jonathan Edwards.  One theme that McDermott emphasized in Edwards' work is the beauty of God. Because most people's familiarity with Edwards is limited to one less-than-beautiful sermon, Edwards is not generally thought of someone who was deeply in love with God and considered God's beauty to be the primary quality of God that draws people to belief.

At one point, either McDermott or Myers said something like, "So for him, it wasn't about being driven by duty, but drawn by beauty." Which easily sticks in the mind. And it did.

Separately, yesterday at some point the thought came to me, "You can't reason people out of something they weren't reasoned into." (Turns out that comes from Jonathan Swift, but I don't know where I heard it. Probably by way of my high school English teacher, as it seems like the sort of quotation he would have on his chalkboard.)

And I was thinking about how hard it is to reason oneself out of behaviors or even ideas that did not come about primarily through reason but through "the affections," as Jonathan Edwards referred to the deeper part of the human being, what the Hebrew scriptures refer to as "the heart," though it is much more than what Americans usually mean by "heart," which they separate completely from reason. If I understood correctly about Edwards, he wasn't separating feeling and thinking and calling "the affections" the emotional part of a person. Instead, he meant the deep part of a person that influences both their thinking and their feeling. It has to do with the heart's desire for meaning and beauty and love.

And so if the heart's desire for meaning, beauty, and/or love has led someone to a particular belief, or practice, or relationship, or whatever, even if that belief, practice, or relationship turns out not to be a true or sufficient object of desire, purely reasoning about it is not likely to help a person see that or change their ways. We see this all the time with the obvious addictions. People really and truly want and need love, or peace, or happiness, and they find something that temporarily gives some semblance of that in a substance or relationship. But the drug, or drink, or relationship ends up causing more trouble than the seeming good it brings. Simply pointing this out and reasoning doesn't generally help people, even when they want to make changes. They usually have to have something greater to motivate them. Something that offers greater love, peace, or happiness.

And we can all relate to this, I think, when it comes to something as simple as food. We need food to live. It's normal to enjoy good food. Good food is a great blessing. And yet we can overeat and make ourselves unhealthy in all kinds of ways by it. But I don't know many people who succeed in changing their eating habits simply by reasoning themselves away from that luscious piece of chocolate cake on the table before them. We need a better motivation than "that just isn't logical."

So, with these things going on in my mind the past couple of days, I sat down this morning and saw on my "Ordo Kalendar" that today is the day of John Donne. One of my favorites. I decided I should read something by him to honor the day and got out our "Top 500 Poems" anthology. The first poem they had in the 25 pages on Donne was one I remember learning from my high school English teacher, who was a gifted actor and excellent reader-aloud of poetry:

Batter 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.

"Reason . . . proves weak  or untrue." Being driven by duty just isn't enough. But being drawn by beauty/love has great power, even the power to cause Donne to wish to be enthralled (which can mean both to be enchanted or captivated, and also to be enslaved) by God.

This is a rather rambling post, but I was fascinated this morning to find this poem before me and to see how it fit with the things I had been thinking about.

Oh, yes, and also that the psalm for today was Psalm 89, which begins, "I will sing of thy steadfast love, O Lord, for ever," and has several themes that connect with Edwards' themes.

And it all relates to Lent, at least in my mind (which I think can find connections between anything and anything else sometimes), because it has do with fasting and discipline in general, and with the beauty of Easter/resurrection that is the very reason for Lent in the first place.

But more on that later. And perhaps it will be less rambling. But only perhaps.

A few days later, April 8, I just found this article on "John Donne in Lent." I had no idea just how appropriate it was that these thoughts came together when they did. And I don't believe I have ever written such a hyperlinked blog post....


Lucy said...

That first 'batter my heart' line, which I know well, I'd rather misplaced, and couldn't have sworn it wasn't Herbert or even Hopkins.

Excellent post, not rambling at all but thoughtful, erudite and impressive.

Sheila said...

Well, it all fit together in my mind. But when I'm writing in a hurry, I sometimes wonder if other people will be able to see the connections so clearly. Perhaps your own erudition has to do with how you read my writing, too, Lucy....