Monday, March 2, 2015

On the way to Easter, via the grave...

The poet's grave in Wales, about which he thought and wrote during life...


O Thou! the first fruits of the dead,
                        And their dark bed,
When I am cast into that deep
                        And senseless sleep
            The wages of my sinne,
                                    O then,
Thou great Preserver of all men!
                        Watch o're that loose
                        And empty house,
            Which I sometimes liv'd in.


It is (in truth!) a ruin'd peece
                        Not worth thy Eyes,
And scarce a room but wind, and rain
                        Beat through, and stain
            The seats, and Cells within;
                        Yet thou
Led by thy Love wouldst stoop thus low,
                        And in this Cott
                        All filth, and spott,
            Didst with thy servant Inne.


And nothing can, I hourely see,
                        Drive thee from me,
Thou art the same, faithfull, and just
                        In life, or Dust;
            Though then (thus crumm’d) I stray
                                    In blasts,
Or Exhalations, and wasts
                        Beyond all Eyes
                        Yet thy love spies
            That Change, and knows thy Clay.


The world's thy boxe: how then (there tost,)
                        Can I be lost?
But the delay is all; Tyme now
                        Is old, and slow,
            His wings are dull, and sickly;
                                    Yet he
            Thy servant is, and waits on thee,
                        Cutt then the summe,
                        Lord haste, Lord come,
            O come Lord Jesus quickly!

Romans Cap. 8 ver. 23
And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
*  *  *
This poem, with references to 1 Corinthians 15:20, Romans 6:23, and Revelation 22:20 (and ending with the quote from Romans 8), is a fine example of Anglican poetry’s way of synthesizing scripture in meditation—here on mortality. Vaughan, who was deeply affected by his brother’s death, is here practicing the ancient Christian art of learning to live fully by keeping one’s death regularly before the mind. This is not morbid: it is a spiritual exercise that allows us to gauge the degree to which we are living in the shadow of death or in the light of the Resurrection. Vaughan walks through consciousness of his sin and mortality and towards assurance, finally boldly calling on God’s judgment in Christ...treating (in a very Anglican way) the Apocalypse as a book of hope, not horror.

Our Lenten journey requires us to become deeply honest about ourselves: our frailty, our limitations, and our sin. In so doing, we actually grow in the ability to listen, accept, and grow in faith. The flexibility of character needed to follow Jesus is well-expressed in this poem. To become supple in the Lord’s service requires an act of God’s grace and our cooperation by receiving that grace in humility and love. This is an essential part of Lent and the Christian life in general. Let's have the boldness to follow Vaughan in this bracing (but freeing) practice. We will find Easter Day much more joyous if we have not hidden from Good Friday.

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