I can’t stop mulling over that Donne poem. In case you missed it, here it is again:
Batter My Heart, Three-Person'd God
Batter my heart, three-personed 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 usurped town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, 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 me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
One of the reasons I like Donne is his playful intellect, that double-edged sword. “Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend.” But it doesn’t of course; it keeps us captive. I can relate to the frustration he expresses.
How often do you hear someone talk about the peace that surpasses understanding? When we have serious problems, everyone prays that for us. But exactly how do you find that peace—or put it another way—how do you let God establish that peace in you? I’m here God, ready to feel that peace. Bring it on. Is that it? Sort of. Maybe. Wait, I don’t feel peaceful—all hell’s breaking loose. Am I missing something? I said I was happy to accept peace. More than ready. Sigh.
What does that peace look like? Serene? Calm? Stoic? Eye of the hurricane? How do you feel peace when your mind is always churning, synthesizing, analyzing. I take comfort that Jesus himself doesn’t seem all that calm to me. You don’t knock over tables and sweat blood because you have a serene nature. He’s not the Christian version of Buddha, although he’s always depicted as spouting wisdom with this sappy beneficent look on his face.
How are we supposed to feel God’s presence? Is it warm and fuzzy? Is it in the grass, the trees, our children, other people, the rocks, my computer, everything—or is that too pantheistic? And what about the shadow we see out of the corner of our eye—gone so fast maybe it wasn’t there at all. Frustratingly unknowable. Tantalizingly unknowable. We are always pushing out and reaching beyond and our hands close on thin air. No wonder Donne asks God to get him out of the arranged marriage with reason. We toss and turn in reason, feel hemmed in and stifled, but don’t know how get out. And, if we can’t do it because it’s supposed to be all God’s work, well, we can turn that against ourselves, too. Gee, is that God now? Is He doing something? Am I feeling free? Wait, am I imagining all this? What if I’m imagining all this?
I love those last two lines “I, except you enthrall me, never shall be free/Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.” I wonder if Donne felt a bit daring writing that? Maybe it was a commonplace expression of religious piety. Hah. Any commentary will be quick to point you to the bridegroom imagery in the Bible and the Song of Solomon, but it’s still a weird concept. That’s supposed to be the model for a relationship with Christ? It seems so . . . carnal. Honestly, when you read Song of Solomon, do you really think, “This is about the church as the bride of Christ”? It doesn’t exactly calm the senses. Anyway, in pondering all this in my haphazard, non-systematic way, I happened across this link that features a very interesting quote from Ronald Rolheiser.
I wasn’t familiar with Rolheiser. He seems to have rubbed a few people the wrong way, which I find delightful. So I checked out a book called The Restless Heart, which addresses loneliness and the insatiable human longing for connection and meaning. Rolheiser seems to think that we’ll be having sex in heaven, and I’m not quite sure if he means that as a metaphor. It definitely makes heaven sound a lot more interesting that standing around singing and strumming a lyre.