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Holy Sonnet XIV - John Donne (1572-1631)

Greetings All!

Today's "thought" comes from a rather thick book (I'm estimating it has over 1000 pages since it's almost 3 inches thick and the only recent book I have where the pages are not numbered)!  It's called "A Poem a Day -- 365 Devotional Readings Based on Classic Christian Verse" by Philip Comfort and Daniel Partner.  Though I'm no poet, I have found it quite intriguing.

     Today's selection includes a poem by John Donne (1572-1631) followed by a meditation on who he was and why he wrote it. The poem (which is autobiographical) deals with Donne's yearning yet rebellious heart which he knew well enough to know that God must either possess him completely, or he could never be chaste or satisfied -- something which may sound odd to some.
     Even if you're not a poet either, I encourage you to read on.  Consider not just the poem, but the devotional thought that follows -- a thought which reveals the heart of a man who could not settle for complacency or meager handouts in his relationship with God. Enjoy.

Holy Sonnet XIV

"Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you as yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend; that I may rise and stand.
  Overthrow me, and bend your force to break, blow, burn and make me new.
  I, like a usurped town, to another due, labor to admit you, but O, 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 and imprison me, for I, except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
 Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me."
     John Donne was one of the greatest English poets and preachers of the 1600's. His deep intellect and fiery emotions are evident in both his poetry and sermons. A descendant of Saint Thomas More, Donne was raised a Roman Catholic, but in the 1590's became a member of the Church of England. In 1597 he became secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton and fell in love with Egerton's niece, Ann More. They eloped in 1601. Ann's father disapproved of the marriage and caused Egerton to dismiss Donne from his job.  Thereafter, Donne accepted the king's invitation to become an Anglican priest.
     These experiences of poverty and failure caused Donne to rely on God and cherish His love. This poem expresses the poet's desire for God -- the entire Triune God -- to take over his being. Donne compares himself to a captive town that can never be free unless God captures the capturer (the enemy) and sets Donne free. And with pungent, dramatic irony, Donne declares that he can never be "chaste" -- or a spiritual virgin -- unless God ravishes him. Wooing had not worked.  Donne needed God to take violent action and batter down his heart and take it over completely.
     Sometimes we need to ask God to take over our heart and mind in a radical way. In doing so, He will not enslave us or seize us without right, but rather, He will free us. Until God completely occupies us, we will be occupied with everything but God.
     As the prophet says: "I will make you my wife forever, says the Lord. I will show you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as Lord." (Hosea 2:19-20)."

     I would have loved to sit under the preaching of a man so passionate to know and experience the love, presence, and grace of God. It reminds me of another person who also spoke of God in such terms. It brings to mind another person, Annie Dillard, who was also discontent with the common and somewhat apathetic views of God held in the church. For after surveying the contemporary church scene in the 1980's she wrote in her book, "Teaching a Stone to Talk":
     "On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions.  Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of Power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are like children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return."
     Isaiah would have preferred her understanding of God to that which is sometimes put forth in the church.  For very much like her, Isaiah conceived that if God were to, "rend the heavens and come down," then the mountains would tremble before Him, the waters would boil as when a fire is lit beneath them, and the nations would quake in fear before His presence (Isaiah 64:1-5). 
     What a difference it would make to us as individuals, and Christ's Church as a whole, if we captured even the smallest glimpse of God's true greatness and grandeur and majesty.  Even the smallest glimpse of the God we worship would make us, like Donne, passionate to know and be possessed completely by Him.

In His Service, Pastor Jeff