Studies In Classic American Literature – D H Lawrence

[Essay on Edgar Allan Poe]

D H Lawrence

D H Lawrence

 “Love is the mysterious vital attraction which draws things together, closer, closer together.  For this reason sex is the action crisis of love. For in sex the two blood-systems, in the male and female, concentrate and come into contact, the merest film intervening. Yet if the intervening film breaks down, it is death.

So there you are. There is a limit to everything. There is a limit to love.     The central law of all organic life is that each organism is intrinsically isolate and  single in itself. The moment its isolation breaks down, and there comes an actual mixing and confusion, death sets in. This is true of every individual organism, from man to amoeba.

But the secondary law of all organic life is that each organism only lives through contact with other matter, assimilation, and contact with other life, which means assimilation of new vibrations, non-material. Each individual organism is vivified by intimate contact with fellow organism: up to a certain point.”

So man. He breathes the air into him, he swallows food and water. But more  than this.  He takes into him the life of his fellow men, with whom he comes into contact, and he gives back life to him. This contact draws nearer and nearer, as the intimacy increases. When it is a whole contact, we call it love. Men live by food, but die if they eat too much. Men live by love, but die. or cause death, if they love too much.

Sacred and Profane Love Titian (1490–1576)

Sacred and Profane Love – Titian (1490–1576)

There are two loves: sacred and profane, spiritual and sensual.

  • In sensual love, it is the two blood-systems, the man’s and woman’s, which sweep up into pure contact, and almost fuse. Almost mingle. Never quite. There is the always the finest imaginable wall between the two bloodwaves, through which pass unknown vibrations, forces, but through the blood itself must never break, or its means bleeding.
  •  In spiritual love, the contact is purely nervous. The nerves in the lovers are set vibrating in unison like two instruments. The pitch can rise higher and higher. But carry this too far, and the nerves begin to break, to bleed, as it were, and a form of death sets in.

StudiesInClassicAmericanLiteratureThe trouble about man is that he insists  on being master of his own  fate, and he insists on oneness. For instance, having discovered the ecstasy of spiritual love, he insists that he shall have this all the time, and nothing but this, for this is life. It is what he calls “heightening” life. He wants his nerves to be set vibrating in the intense and exhilarating union with the nerves of another being and by this means he acquires an ecstasy of vision, he finds himself in glowing unison with all the universe.

But as a matter of fact this glowing unison is only a temporary thing, because the first law of life is that each organism is isolate in itself, it must return to its own isolation.  Yet man has tried the glow of unison, called loved, and he likes it. It gives him  his highest gratification. He wants it. He wants it all the time. He wants and he shall have it. He doesn’t want to return to his own isolation. Or if he must, it is only as a prowling beast returns to its lair to rest and set out again.

Sacred & Profane Love - Sean Keating

Sacred & Profane Love – Sean Keating

Going Anyway!

Adi Nes - Samuel and Saul

Adi Nes – Samuel and Saul

Many years ago now,  I mentored Education for Ministry Groups.  Much of the material was adequate but forgettable. One thing stuck. In the Old Testament we took up the stories of Samuel and Saul.  The people wanted a king and Samuel warned them not to give up the ancient ways. They persisted.   With the rise of Saul, two issues were raised which have persisted, in one form or another, throughout the Judeo-Christian story:

  1. How can the fundamental character of an original religious experience be preserved when the conditions which gave birth to that experience are significantly altered?
  2. How can any religious community develop the institutional organization it needs to preserve its identity throughout the passage of time, and still remain open to God’s direct inspiration and guidance?

I have thought about these questions as I study and consider the way forward these days. What began 500 years ago is ending. The Modern Age has joined the Victorian as ages past. We face new conditions yet again.  How many times have Christians face new conditions since that first generation after the resurrection?  In three long generations the Roman Empire moved from  persecutor to protector.  The Good News of God in Christ became the good news for revitalizing  Roman culture. Many times since this has happened. It is easy to deplore the age in which we find ourselves but that will give us no pass, no respite and not to choose is to choose.

I have no answer other than to say that God promised to lead us into all truth. That involves our attentive contemplation in the silences of our souls, I suspect.  The way forward will be revealed.  The way forward will involve narrow ways than broad and we will doubt the clarity we once thought we had. Faith is not knowing exactly where we are going but going anyway.  JWS

The Wall

Victor Safonkin

Victor Safonkin

 People often say that the Church is not a club for the righteous but rather a hospital for sinners. I now believe that the metaphor of church as hospital for sinners doesn’t go far enough.  It strikes me that it might be better viewed as hospice and crematorium for sinners. Why such an image of dying and burial?  Following Jesus requires a certain kind of mortality and laying to rest.

 It is no accident that the first of the twelve steps of Alcoholic’s Anonymous is the recognition and embracing of powerlessness. Powerlessness siphons terror from the dark place within us where the wild things pace – when life finally reveals its inevitable mastery of all circumstances and we meet, perhaps for the first time, a boundary, not a border to be crossed, not an obstacle to be overcome but a boundary period. No finesse, grace or power we have honed will change anything. We are speechless for the thing that we have feared has come upon us.

Greg Spalenka

Greg Spalenka

At such a moment an inner voice says, “Don’t just stand there do something!”  I think I could move to the left or perhaps I could tunnel under this boundary.  There has to be a way.  I look for doctors, priests, and shamans to fix this so the boundary will go away and I can be in control again.  But there is none to help in time of need.

I frantically look for what I might do. I inventory the past.  If I had done this differently or gone down that fork in the path rather than the one I chose.  I begin to feel anger that such a thing is true, that I am indeed powerless.  I feel guilt. Even though a part of me knows that no action on my part can change the boundary. But as Elaine Pagels says, “people would rather feel guilty than powerless.” But feeling guilt changes nothing. Nothing changes nothing.

Greg Spalenka

Greg Spalenka

We can medicate against such occasions. We can take a pill or drink a drink or work harder and longer so that we need not know the truth of the boundary and choose to feel nothing rather than give in to the terror of powerlessness. But there is not enough to change the simple monolithic fact that we are powerless over the boundary.

Greg Spalenka

Greg Spalenka

Finally out of exhaustion or “fed up-ness” (which a teacher of mine said was the greatest motivation for change)[1] we sink down before the unchangeable and concede that we are indeed at the mercy of the boundary of reality.  We are at the terminal phase of our struggle and are now ready to die and be buried.

 Then and only then suddenly the energy is released the energy to transcend the boundary. Like the boundary of addiction true surrender releases energy to accomplish the very thing that will alone can never achieve. The irony is that no matter how many times I experience the gift of surrender the struggle continues for surrender is counter-intuitive. I believe that a Christian community is the place where such paradoxical learning must occur. Let us then come to the boundary, hear the voice of the savior and take up our bed and walk.


[1] Edwin Friedman in lecture

Epiphany III – 2014

Friedrich Heinrich Füger

Friedrich Heinrich Füger

Back at Christmas we heard the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”  But notice that Matthew quoting the prophet takes the situation a step further, “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and on those who sit their lives away in the shadow of death – on them live has dawned!”

John the Baptizer was arrested by Herod and ultimately beheaded From then on Jesus started to herald his message and to say .  .  Jesus began to preach the Kingdom of Heaven. “Repent, for the Kingdom is at hand.”  Or as Frederick Bruner puts it, “Turn your lives around, because here comes the Kingdom of Heaven.”

And so it did.  Without marching bands and media coverage, walking along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus sees Simon and Andrew his brother.  This is the Andrew who last week spends the afternoon talking with Jesus.    At the end of last week’s reading, Andrew finds Simon and tells him that he has found the messiah, the anointed one.

We all know Simon.  Jesus nicknamed him Petros, the Rock.   He was a man of giant proportions, wonderfully complex, and passionate: at his best a rock, at his worst, silly putty.  Andrew, was the proverbial “little brother”, stable and dependable.  In the Gospel accounts, Andrew is always bringing someone to Jesus.

Jesus calls them.  This was not their first meeting but now comes the moment to decide.   They left their nets, boats, and families and followed Jesus.

Then Jesus called James and John, the sons of Zebedee.  James was the older.     John, tradition has it, was about sixteen.  They are best known for being the loud mouths of the group.  Jesus named them the “Sons of Thunder” because they liked talk about punching the lights of anyone who disagreed with them.  Fortunately, like thunder, they were mostly noise.

Jesus called these four men and they left their:

  •                 Nets:       careers
  •                 Boats:    possessions
  •                 Father:   family

and  followed him.

fishing boatThis is not to say that they never had contact with career, processions or family again;

  •   Peter is later at home with his wife.
  •   All of them go fishing again.
  •   They didn’t give away the boats.

BUT CAREER, POSSESSIONS AND FAMILY were no longer the ultimate focus of their lives.  To do evangelism we must first, BE, evangelized!  We are initiated into this community, we are adopted into this family by Baptism.  We are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. This baptism is not magic.  It is not like a flu shot.  It is the beginning of   relationship and dependence on God.

We may or may not be aware of the work of the Spirit for a long time.  We should, however, be very aware of the love and nurture of Christians around us.  That is why we need to know each other, love each other, forgive each other, carrying the burden of those overloaded and building a community that promotes maturity in the faith building up the body of Christ.

Fra angelica

Fra angelica

The center of this family of Christians, like all families, is the table where we eat.  This is the place where we gather as the assembly of the faithful to encounter in word and sacrament: The Resurrected the Jesus.

From time to time, what one of my favorite characters in literature calls a “sudden irresistible motion of grace” may well come our way.  We are going along, working, doing our thing, when an event, a person, or a combination of factors STOPS US in our tracks.  Our outer shell is cracked and suddenly our heart is dilated, we can’t explain it.  Something has shifted a bit and we are transformed from what we were.  We call these events: religious or conversions experiences.

Then we move on and reflect on what has happened by:

    1. Study:    what does this mean?
    2. Piety/Prayer:  What is God saying to me?
    3. Action:  Doing what is called for in response to God’s call and grace.

So the process of conversion, which began at our baptism, continues.  The same process is alive in us that worked on the first disciples.   The authenticity of their discipleship resided in their “follower ship”.  They did not simply “believe” Jesus and let it go at that.  They did not “praise” Jesus by verbal declarations of support; nor, did they offer Jesus good intentions about getting behind him some time in the future. They committed themselves.  They made a decision around which all the other decisions in their lives would revolve.  …

James Tissot

James Tissot

They made a commitment! They made a decision, which formatted all the other decisions they would ever make. The fact that they left nets boats and father and followed Jesus doesn’t mean that they never had contact with career, possessions, and family again. BUT none of these things were the focus, the defining principle of their lives.   The defining principle is a person: Jesus and their careers, possessions and family became their means of ministry.

None of us is born Christian — not now, nor in the time of Jesus.  We are never “genetically Christian.”  We might originate out of generations of “good Episcopalians,” but, as the statistics bear out, this origination does not guarantee an active involvement in the community of faith. In every age, in every generation, a decision has to be made. Grandparents and parents can’t make it for you.  A hand-me-down, hereditary commitment doesn’t work.  Sitting week after week in a chicken house will not make you a poulet!  It’s as futile as someone attempting to be baptized on behalf of someone else. Commitment can’t be made by proxy and God has no grandchildren!

 God’s self-disclosure in Christ calls for a response — our response.  That is the essence of today’s Gospel reading: revelation meets up with commitment.”   The philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, once said, “a thing is what it does.”

 We can do all we will here in the church to talk about fishing.  We can talk theory, study the book, have a boat, (remember that the section of the church where you are seated is not the sanctuary [the sanctuary in this church is the section behind the altar rail, so when people ask me how many people can be seated in the sanctuary at Saint John’s I say, nine when crowded.] Where you are seated is called the nave from navis which means ship.  If we go out on the lake and paddle around a fish may jump into the boat. But that is not fishing. We are called to transformation and then to be agents of transformation, which brings me to that word that provokes an allergic reaction in Episcopalians: Evangelism, the fishing for people our Lord spoke of so long ago.

 It’s a loaded word.  The word, EVANGELISM, raises images of lapel pulling, 35 pound black-bound Bibles, guilt, shame, and the hard sell.  For some people who have been approached that way it feels like being “stalked” for Jesus.   I am uneasy with that too, but the problem is that in reacting against that we do nothing.  We say something like, “I think that by living a good life, a life of faith, people will observe that life and that will be enough.   Well maybe….


A man who took this position lived next door to a man who was not a Christian.   So the Christian man decided to live out the life in front of his neighbor.  And he did.   The neighbor noticed that his neighbor’s life was different.  One day he said to the Christian across the back fence, “There’s just something about you that is different from me.  Your life is full and you are just more peaceful than I am.  I want to ask you a question?”

  • “Yes,” said the Christian.
  • “Are you,” asked the neighbor.”
  • The Christian began to get a little excited, “Yes, go on he said”
  • “Are you a vegetarian?” asked the neighbor.

There is a time when speaking a word to others about Jesus is exactly the thing required for the manifestation of grace to take place but it must come from deep within us where we hear the spirit speaking words of grace and hope.

It is time to get on with it.   Jesus calls us to follow him: now not later.   We are called to be full of him wherever we are.  Let us pray that our careers, processions, and families will day by day become the means by which “an irresistible motion of grace” may be manifested in our lives and in the lives of those we meet.


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The Origin & Healing of Sin

Abel and Cain offer their sacrifice to God

Abel and Cain offer their sacrifice to God

Prudentius(1) in a work entitled The Origin of Sin demonstrates the Type – Antitype(2) Structure of Christian Biblical interpretation. He shows this through the story the murder of Abel by his brother Cain enraged that Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable to God and his was not.

Then a brother in jealousy of the goodness that was accepted arms his hand to commit parricide, and breaks his own brother’s neck with his bent hoe, staining the new-made world with unnatural bloodshed, a world to be purified late in time when it was already growing old, by the sacred blood of Christ whereby the destroyer fell.  Death first began with he wounding of one that was innocent, and passed away by the wounding of one that was innocent, and passed away by the wounding of one that was guiltless. Through sin it arose, by sin it was done away, in that afortime it smote Abel, and then Christ; it was itself  brought to an end in aiming at one who is without end.

The Origin of Sin: Prudentius
The Origin of Sin: Prudentius

The Type/Antitype typology speaks to the criticism that says the God of the Old and New Testaments are not the same God.  The old one is vengeful and the new one is don’t worry be happy.  This is really grossly over-simplified as the Hebrew Scriptures are full of the loving kindness and never failing mercy of God. While the Book of Revelation for one in the New Testament has plenty of judgement (thank you very much).

For me at least,  I see the difference as not about God’s character at all but rather about the development stage of humanity.  There is a story I remember reading about John Wesley (where I have no idea) who went to the mines preaching grace and the miners paid him no mind.  The next day he returned, this time preaching hell-fire and judgment.  That day they heard him.

The structure of Type & Antitype display the essential and deep harmony of the entire sweep of the Bible.  It is one story. The murder of Abel is the murder of our brother and the failure of Cain is the failure of our brother.  When that becomes true we will be a long way toward understanding the amazing grace of God’s steadfast love demonstrated in the saving acts of God in history.

ivory panel cain(1)Aurelius Prudentius Clemens was a Roman Christian poet, born in the Roman province of Tarraconensis in 348. He probably died in the Iberian Peninsula some time after 405, possibly around 413. Wikipedia

 (2)Type – Antitype
1. One that is foreshadowed by or identified with an earlier symbol or type, such as a figure in the New Testament who has a counterpart in the Old Testament.
2. An opposite or contrasting type.  Free Dictionary