We were studying John Donne's sonnets in class. I scrolled wildly down my phone, speed reading for my life; I plume myself on being a pretty fast reader, but there's only so much reading you can do on the way to class in the bus--especially if you're prone to motion sickness. One play is the most I can manage before looking so green around the gills the man next to me glances nervously down at his nice white shirt.
Meanwhile, a voice droned on in the background about Donne's colourful life and corresponding poetic career. Brilliant erotic love poetry, much of it tongue-in-cheek, which reflected his playboy phase; succeeded by his conversion and transition to brilliant spiritual poetry, besides the sermons he wrote as a pastor. You had to admit that was interesting. If it had been the 21st century you could be sure it would be a feast for the tabloids; PLAYBOY TO PREACHER or something alliterative like that.
But just for now, I was in a still moment of my own. When time stops. Which movies clumsily try to capture by blurring out the background and sound, and casting golden light on the center; but everyone who has experienced it know it actually feels more like being flung into the sky.
Because that's where I was. I reread it, hastily, regretting how quickly I had skimmed past it, though it had reached out and caught at my heart with a thousand tiny hands as I hurried by. Something in me gasped a little; somewhere, where a vague feeling roiled without any words to make it conscious, I knew that this poem had homed.
How many times had I struggled with this feeling, that there was some exquisite conflict deeper than I could understand, that had to do with the very fiber of being human and sinful; of having a soul which longed for eternity; of having both, warring and embracing at once, till I wept with confusion and hardly knew what I wanted, how I could want such different things at the same time.
This is sanctification, that dull heavy word in theology that represents in the life of a Christian the bleeding, trembling, pulsing experience of dying to sin and living to righteousness. So set on pushing forward, so full of life, its heart-throbs sharpened by pain like the process of giving birth.
This is the paradox, the wonder, the irony of how two such oppositional things could possibly be reconciled; how the flesh could hold both sin and Spirit, how we who were made for God could desire Him even when we least deserved Him, even when we thrust ourselves further from Him.
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.
(Yes, in case you think I'm still somehow in the clouds, I eventually hit earth with a thump through sheer possessiveness over this poem. I wanted to treasure it away from the sacrilege of detached critical analysis and the bloodless examination of its poetic techniques. Somewhere in those lines a piece of me now was and to have it dissected with the further sacrilege of bored yawns and pragmatic powerpoint slides was like watching part of me being eaten by cannibals who didn't even appreciate the taste. The very ridiculousness of my feelings soon brought me back to reality. I even managed to write prosaic bullet points on Donne's usage of imagery without feeling like a murderer. And lo, there you have the beautiful bewilderment of opposites once more in my almost simultaneous experience of transcendence and laughably petty absurdity!)
a quiet voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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