This post was inspired by encouragement from my friend Meredith: ("I am eager to hear Larry speak more about Blake." Like most of my blogs it's more about me, and the subject:
"I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's."
That did it for me! It's practically the story of my life.
Raised in a parsonage, wedded to the church (with the usual adolescent rebellion included) I set out to serve mankind, via the Methodist parish ministry for 8 years, and thereafter with a much larger mission (with the bishop's blessing). The sap was rising.
"But your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more.
They're already overcrowded
From your dirty little war.
Now Jesus don't like killin'
No matter what the reason's for,
And your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more."
This little chorus by John Prine was dinned in my ears for months by my adolescent sons (ca 1972). It was a cute thought, but it meant little to me at the time. But God has a strange way of bringing little things like that together over a period of time for long range consequences.
8 years later, with an uncreative job I had to do (for groceries) I came across Northrup Frye's Fearful Symmetry. I read it five times and was hooked. Over the next five years I wrote my Blake book.
Meanwhile Ellie and I were commited to a nationally famous small church in D.C. After serving it for ten years it was beginning to lose its charm for us (too much structure, too much discipline, too much being told what to believe).
We tried UU (they had too lavish a worship service). The next Sunday we walked into Langley Hill Friends Meeting: oh joy, no 'authority', just seek God in your own way, at your own pace.
Looking back now (23 years later), and with Meredith's inducement to reflect on Blake it came to me how he had influenced our lives and our faith. Every other 'system' had fallen short; we must create our own. (Quakers believe the Light Within is what drives your life.) Blake spent his whole life looking at the light within-- and reporting to us what he had found.
Other men have been driven exclusively by that light within, Nietzsche, for example and Van Gogh, but they both went crazy. Blake of course was considered crazy by many or most people. The difference is while they got lost in their visions he came back from his, to sober rationality.
Blake set us free from the emotional ties of conventional theology and organized religion; they were all "another man's system". He proved that you could do that and keep your sanity. Of course he and Katherine were as poor as church mice, materially!, but spiritually a prince.
He was 42 when he "met the Lord" (to use a hackneyed term). He spent many years excoriating Old Nobadaddy, as he called God (and he had a few other names for him, too). But all that negativity, like Isaiah's, had a happy outcome.
Early in his career he coined two important terms: innocence and experience. They represent two phases or stages of life, or perhaps two roads to take; some choose innocence; he chose experience. He descibed the first choice with Thel; his life is the second choice, a long and torturous road; but both end at the same place.
With his acquaintance with Jesus he referred to him as The forgiveness, and he considered it to be the greatest (and even the only) tenet of life (completely in accord with the Lord's Great Commandment). For me that substantailly leaves all other theologies in the dust.
Further it completely discounts the support of war, of which practically all established churches through the years have been guilty. They are hard to forgive for that, and in polite society there is a strong taboo against mentioning it.