Monday, July 17, 2006

So What's so Good about Blake?

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.


anonymous julie said...

I like. Thanks, Larry. :)

isaiah said...

Thanks Larry,

I learned much reading this- Love the John Prine.

We come to grow into awareness as to 'what gets us into heaven and what doesn't,' over our lives finally resting into the arms of 'always already,' seeing the kingdom everywhere, in everything.

All things are new.

Meredith said...

Thank you for sharing this reflection, Larry. I, too, learn so much from you. Much of this intrigues me, but what struck me foremost was the mention of innocence and experience. Perhaps these represent two stages or phases of life, but I see that they also represent two ways of relating to the world, or to spirituality. For years, likely by Quaker influences, I have been approaching life from the experiential tract. More recently, which maybe is backwards, I have come to rely more on innocence. I realized that I have placed way too much emphasis on experience – almost coming to think that my experience defined who I am. Now I realize that to approach each new moment with innocence, with freshness, with an 'unknowing' sort of openness, I find myself much less attached to concepts, and much more open to really see, and, paradoxically, to really experience Presence in this moment.

Anyway, that’s my tangent for today. Thank you so much for sharing Blake with us.

Larry said...

Thanks, friends, for these beautiful reflections.

Meredith, the matter of innocence and experience is something worth exploring a bit more. I think you might find Blake's poem Thel very insightful.

But that wasn't his last word, a more conclusive statement about innocence and experience comes at Plate 14 of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell":

"the cherub with his flaming sword is hereby commanded to leave his guard at the tree of life, and when he does, the whole creation will be consumed and appear infinite and holy whereas it now appears finite & corrupt.
This will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment."

Northrup Frye also saw the return to the Garden as man's natural destiny. He spoke of jumping through the ring of fire interposed by the cherubs at the entrance.

I don't know what these images will mean to anyone else, but to me they are life-giving.

Thanks again to all who may read these words.

anonymous julie said...

your comment about the ones who went crazy, reminded me of something they say in the coast guard: you have to go out, but you don't have to come back.

i like your opening quotation.