Music of the Week — March 25, 2007
For ISB Fans

Sunday Night Journal — March 25, 2007

Discovering Traherne (2)

I mentioned last week that this has so far been a rather unreflective Lent for me. The main problem is the medium by which you’re reading this. It doesn’t do any good, or not much, to turn off the television and stop the flow of hysterical “news” from that source, or to silence the pop music, if you’re still spending an inordinate amount of time reading news and commentary and mere gossip on the web. There are several social or political questions on which I’d really like to comment, but with a great effort of will I’m going to shove them aside until after Easter, and focus on Traherne.

The Traherne work which was rediscovered in 1897, the Centuries of Meditations, seems to be the source of the greatest enthusiasm for his work. It’s a series of five sets of one hundred brief meditations (except that the fifth Century is incomplete). I have deliberately refrained from reading any more about this work until I have read the work itself, as I prefer to have my first encounter with a writer relatively uninfluenced by the opinions of others. I won’t be surprised, though, to find out that certain parts of the first Century in particular are popular outside Christian circles—for instance, its use in the song lyric I quoted last week. It would be possible to portray him as a naïve and perhaps soft-headed spiritual optimist, perhaps even as a New Ager. I can easily imagine him being treated in the sentimental way that St. Francis was in the movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon. Indeed a Catholic reader can hardly avoid thinking of Traherne’s spirituality as somewhat Franciscan, but as with Francis, the cute and cozy image can only be maintained by excluding and ignoring a great deal of what was clearly most important to the man himself.

Unlike Francis, of course, Traherne is known to us primarily as a writer, and it’s not his spiritual insight alone but his poetic articulation of it that make him so appealing. What I appreciate most in him so far is his emphasis on gratitude for the mere fact of existence and its simplest constituents. From the first Century, number 2:

Is not the vision of the WORLD an Amiable Thing? Do not the Stars shed Influences to Perfect the Air? Is not that a marvellous Body to Breath in? To visit the Lungs: repair the Spirits: revive the Sences: Cool the Blood: fill the Empty Spaces between the Earth and Heavens; and yet give Liberty to all Objects?

The great joy in life is the contemplation and love of all things, and that love is no insipid or detached benevolence:

That violence wherewith som times a man doteth upon one Creature, is but a little spark of that love, even towards all, which lurketh in his Nature. We are made to love: both to satisfy the Necessity of our Active Nature, and to answer the Beauties in every Creature. By Lov our souls are married and sodderd to the creatures: and it is our Duty like GOD to be united to them all. We must lov them infinitely but in God, and for God: and God in them: namely all His Excellencies Manifested in them. When we dote upon the Perfections and Beauties of some one Creature: we do not love that too much, but other things too little. Never was anything in this World loved too much, but other things too little. Never was anything in this World loved too much, but many Things hav been loved in a fals Way: and in all too short a Measure. (2-66)

To answer the Beauties in every Creature: this is an idea which may be found in some of the great theologians—I’m not well enough read in them to be sure—but it certainly doesn’t get, in Christian conversation in general, the emphasis and the winsome expression found here. I take “sodderd,” by the way, to be some variant or early form of “soldered”—which, I just discovered, is an etymological neighbor of “solid.”

He condemns ingratitude as strongly as he praises gratitude: where there are ingratitude and un-love, there is Hell. After speaking of Hell as the place where all blessings are lost, he adds:

But it was no Great Mistake to say, That to have Blessings, and not to Prize them is to be in Hell. For it maketh them ineffectual, as if they were Absent. Yea in som respect it is Worse then to be in Hell. It is more vicious, and more Irrational. (1-47)

Next week, a look at Traherne’s striking views of God’s reasons for creating.



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