Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.” I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”
The trick in writing a good villanelle is to make the repeater lines varied without being varied. Note here how the line “The glory latent in the flesh: a rose” has exactly the same words but is punctuated differently each time it appears. And then in the last line, the pun in the division of the world arose carries the weight of the entire development. I was pleased with how this villanelle turned out. See if you are.
The saints believe what every lover knows
Who, gazing on one face, can plainly see
The glory latent in the flesh: a rose.
If Love is what leads lovers to compose
Their songs of praise and deeds of charity,
Then saints believe what every lover knows.
The truth the Heavens declare, the Firmament shows,
To starry-eyed and moon-struck is most free:
The glory latent. In the flesh, a rose
Can shine in cheeks as brightly and disclose
To opened eyes as deep a mystery
Which saints believe and every lover knows.
Yet ash to ash and dust to dust it goes,
An aching void its only legacy,
The glory latent in the flesh. A rose
Will lose its petals, yet the Spring bestows
New life; but what hope for the flesh can be?
The saints believe what every lover knows:
The Glory latent in the Flesh arose.
Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!
Donald T. Williams, PhD
I had the privilege at a recent Mythcon (annual meeting of the Mythopoeic Society) in Berkeley, CA (Aug. 2012), to sit on a panel about the relationship between myth and religion with Father G. Ronald Murphy, S.J.
Father Murphy made the excellent point that Christian Faith cannot be understood in the abstract or by itself, but only as it is related to the other virtues Paul lists along with it: “There then abide Faith, Hope, and Charity (love), these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). Christians doesn’t just have faith as an abstract intellectual exercise: They trust and hope in One that they have learned to love. My thoughts about their interrelationships on the flight back to Georgia coalesced into this poem.
THERE THEN ABIDE THESE THREE
For Father G. Ronald Murphy, S.J.
Curtal Sonnet # 21
And what is Faith? Not simply to believe,
Unless Hope is no more than wishful thinking
Or Love a cynical disguise for lust.
Evidence and Reason can relieve
All valid doubt and yet still leave us shrinking
From what we do not love and will not trust.
Reason is necessary, not enough.
Soul-conquering Love must come alongside, linking
The mind in Hope to One who felt the thrust
Of all our hate and still looked back in Love:
In Him we trust.
Did I get it right?
For more poetry where this one came from, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011), $15.00 + shipping. See also Dr. Willliams’ other Lantern Hollow books, Reflections on Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy and Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters.
SPEAKING (OR WRITING) THE TRUTH IN LOVE
“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the Head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:15, NASB).
Before being a good Christian writer, one first has to be a good Christian. If every Christian is required to speak the truth in love, would Christian writers–those who do the most powerful “speaking”–not have a special obligation to nurture the character that makes this possible? To ask the question is to answer it.
“Speaking the truth in love” is a phrase we have come to parrot all too comfortably. If we truly understood it, we would realize that the Apostle’s exhortation in Eph. 4:15 impales the contemporary church on the horns of a dilemma designed to make its dependence on its own strength and wisdom self-destruct. When we are thus impaled, we have the opportunity to discover how little we understand of either truth or love.
The truth in a fallen world is often harsh and always hostile to human pride. When human beings–even redeemed ones–try in their own wisdom to combine that truth with love, their natural tendency is to blunt the edges and soften the blows of this terrible two-edged Sword. Thus is born theological liberalism and political correctness. But eschewing those betrayals of truth, some of us run the opposite way only to find ourselves not with Christ’s flock but with the cruel Pharisees. Thus is born legalism and self righteousness. In neither case does either truth or love really come through.
History is replete with illustrative examples. They begin at least as early as Job’s friends, with their ham-fisted application to Job’s situation of a very sound theology of the holiness and transcendence of God. Jehovah was not impressed with the theological correctness of their defense of His character because they had not spoken what was right about his servant, Job. I think Martin Luther was right to condemn Muentzer and the Peasant’s Revolt. In fact, early in the controversy he had balanced and sensible things to say to both sides which, if they had been heeded, might have done much good. But the harshness of his attack “Against the Murderous and Plundering Bands of Peasants,” urging the magistrates to “stab, kill, and strangle” as they would a mad dog those who participated, did seem to exceed the bounds of Christian charity. Even allowing for the pejorative debating style of the times, it has left an unfortunate spot on the reputation of that shining hero of the Faith ever since.
We, the American Fundamentalist Movement and its heirs, have provided more than our fair share of such examples. Carl MacIntyre and Bob Jones may have had a point when they argued in the ’50’s that Billy Graham was taking insufficient care to see that his converts ended up in churches that stood without compromise for the Gospel he preached. But instead of a loving critique of a brother, they launched a savage attack on an enemy. The cause of a balanced and biblical approach to ecclesiastical separation and theological integrity has still not recovered from the bad taste that episode left in our collective mouths. Or think of the glib pronouncements that were flying around a decade or two ago that AIDS was God’s judgment on homosexuals. Of course, in a sense, it is; the claim was not simply false. God’s universe is so structured that violations of its moral programming tend to have negative consequences. But what did such pronouncements say to the family of the young lady who got HIV from her dentist? It would seem that Job’s friends are still alive and well.
Perhaps the most instructive recent example is Jerry Falwell’s infamous attribution of the infamous Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to God’s judgment on America’s tolerance of homosexuality, pornography, and abortion. As a factual statement, it may not have been so far wrong as many would like to assume. Frustration with America’s decadence and its use of its media to disseminate what is perceived as moral filth is one of the explicit motivations that lie behind Islamic terrorism. Islamic fundamentalists believe that our iniquity, like that of the Amorites, is full, and that therefore our destruction by Islam, like that of the Amorites by Israel in the Old Testament, is justified. Had Falwell asked us to consider whether we might have given Islamic extremists more than a little excuse for holding this arrogant error, he might have performed a useful service. Instead, all that most people heard was anger, indignation, arrogance, and self righteousness. The apparent absence of compassion in his finger-pointing tone not only hindered and obscured, it buried and even twisted the grains of truth that really were there in his pronouncement.
The problem is not simply an insufficient grasp of either contemporary fact or biblical content (though no doubt there are many who do inadequate homework in both areas). The problem is much deeper. It is our failure to understand that truth is more than factual correctness; it is a Person, the eternal Logos, whose perspectives on those facts are essential to any truth that is whole and wholesome. And love is more than just being nice; it is a willingness to die for one’s enemies that flows, like truth itself, from only one place: that same Person.
As the descendants of the Fundamentalist Movement, Evangelicals continue to wrestle with the legacy of its failures, sometimes distancing ourselves from it to the point that we forget what we owe to it. If only we could avoid its vices without losing its virtues! I’ve tried to summarize the history of our own struggles in the following sonnet:
THE RISE AND FALL OF PROTESTANT FUNDAMENTALISM
“Christ’s Virgin Birth, his Deity, his Cross,
His Word, his Resurrection, his Return:
Could these be given up without the loss
Of Christian faith itself?” was the concern
Of those first known as “Fundamentalist.”
If their descendants’ words have proved uncouth
As if the mind had closed up like a fist,
At least they started caring for the Truth.
It’s one of mankind’s greatest tragedies
Beyond the power of the tongue to tell,
This hardening of mental arteries
Within a movement that began so well.
What they forgot should be like hand in glove:
Truth is not Truth unless we speak in love.
Truth without love is truth distorted; it is ultimately deceptive. And love without truth is love perverted; it is ultimately destructive. This is so even when the truth is factually correct and the love emotionally sincere. Thus are vitiated all merely human attempts either to speak or to serve. Nevertheless, healing speech and true action become possible even for sinful human beings like us when–and only when–we are actively indwelt by the One who is both Logos and Love. Then, speaking the truth in love, we may indeed grow up in all aspects unto Him who is the head, even Christ.
A minister in the Evangelical Free Church of America, Donald T. Williams is a graduate of Taylor University (BA,, 1973), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M.Div., 1976) and the University of Georgia (PhD, 1985). He currently serves as R. A. Forrest Scholar and Professor of English at Toccoa Falls College in the hills of NE Georgia.
Check out Dr. Williams’ books at https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/! Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011), Reflections on Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lantern Hollow, 2012), and Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed. (Lantern Hollow, 2012). Each is $15.00 + shipping.
C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity. Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press. On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.
For this is one of the miracles of love; it gives — to both, but perhaps especially to the woman — a power of seeing through its own enchantments and yet not being disenchanted.
—A Grief Observed
Love–in its truest sense–is not something that obscures our view of reality. Instead, it sharpens it. Through real love, according to Lewis, we see the one we love with crystal clarity…and we decide that we will love them anyway.
To Lewis, as to any really wise person, love is much more than a cascade of fuzzy emotion directed at what amounts to an idol. It is something that really transcends both the lover and the object of his/her affection. To use another of Lewis’s famous quotes, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” It is a decision to which we choose to adhere far more than it is mere feeling. We want the best for someone we love, even in the times we may not like them very much.
Most of the modern world defines “love” no more deeply than the flurry of emotion that accompanies infatuation. Unfortunately, this does not last and eventually we see through the idealized fantasy version of the person that we have “fallen for” and realize who they really are (who we all are)–a broken, imperfect creature with a tendency towards selfishness and failure. In that moment, if we define love on terms as shallow as infatuation, our “love” for them ceases. We become “disenchanted.”
Shortly after we quit “loving” them, we begin to feel that we need not be obligated to them either. We go in search of a new “love” who will excite in us the same feelings the first one did. Relationships fall apart, marriages end in bitter divorce, and children are often the innocent victims. Society as a whole then suffers as a result of a misunderstanding by the sum of its parts.
The cycle is vicious and predictable. It also can be broken with a simple, infinitely difficult step: We make the decision to practice real love with those to whom we have offered the word in lip-service for far too long.
Click here for the entire run of “Meditations with C. S. Lewis” so far. Interested in more about C. S. Lewis? Check out Passing Through the Shadowlands–an extended project where I am blogging through his life in letters, essays, and books.