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Posts Tagged "D H Lawrence":

Freedom: Thought for 13th Sunday after Trinity


Song of Solomon 2.8-13, Psalm 4.1-7, James 1.17-27, Mark 7.1-8, 14-15, 21-23
And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free John 8:32


In the film ‘Babe‘, we cheer as the piglet escapes from the farm to avoid being turned into roast pork; in ‘The Great Escape‘ our hearts leap as Steve McQueen makes it over the barbed wire on his motor-bike; and in ‘Fidelio‘ we sing with the prisoners as they emerge into the light:
Yes, what joy! What joy it is to breathe free air. Anywhere and always1

Freedom, as a one-dimensional concept, is as uncontroversially praiseworthy as motherhood and apple pie. But as Robert Browning knew, in a three-dimensional world, it is very difficult to keep alive the first fine careless rapture. According to Sir Walter Raleigh the shepherd’s sensible girl friend knew this too when, in answer to her swain‘s entreaty written by Christopher Marlowe:

Come live with me and be my love
And we will all the pleasures prove…
And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies

(And much more in that vein), his prosaic inamorata replied:

Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of roses,
Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies,
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten,
In folly ripe, in reason rotten.

She knew that, in reality, A man’s worst difficulties begin when he is able to do as he likes.
Thomas Huxley

Pace the French Revolution, complete freedom is not compatible with complete brotherhood. The only way to be truly free is to be alone, as the Turkish poet, Nazim Hikmet, hinted in his poem ‘Sad State Of Freedom‘:

There’s neither an iron, wooden
nor a tulle curtain
in your life;
there’s no need to choose freedom:
you are free.
But this kind of freedom
is a sad affair under the stars.

William Cowper wrote about Alexander Selkirk, the original Robinson Crusoe:

I am monarch of all I survey
My right there is none to dispute.
From the centre all round to the sea
I am lord of the fowl and the brute.
O solitude! where are the charms
That sages have seen in thy face?
Better dwell in the midst of alarms
Than reign in this horrible place.
I am out of humanity’s reach.
I must finish my journey alone,
Never hear the sweet music of speech;
I start at the sound of my own…
Society, friendship and love
Divinely bestowed upon man,
O had I the wings of a dove
How soon I would taste you again!

Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains, complained Jean Jacques Rousseau.

Yes of course, but the chains are usually of our own making. When we realise, with Janis Joplin, that Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, we begin by seeking out human company even if this means binding ourselves with the chains of human love.

As Francis Bacon wrote:
He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief.

And when we realise that no human relationship can possibly satisfy all of our emotional and spiritual needs, we seek out a relationship with a ‘higher power‘ as some have called it. For pagans, this may be reached through crystalspyramids or astrology. For those with a religious gene, they will seek a relationship with what they are unashamed to call ‘God’. And self-professed Anglicans will forge a relationship with the Trinity through the liturgy and the power of prayer.

If you were to attend a service of  Morning Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer this morning, you would say the Collect for Peace . It includes that difficult phrase whose service is perfect freedom. On the face of it, this is nonsense. Being in service to someone means doing what they tell you to do. Being free means not having to do what anyone tells you to do.

The words are a translation of the original Latin Prayer, which includes the clause ‘cui servare, regnare est’…’to be in subjection is to reign’, meaning that to live in subjection to God is actually to reign with and for God both in this world and in that world which is to come…Freedom is to participate in the righteous and holy reign of Christ over human lives.
The Revd Dr. Peter Toon, President of the Prayer Book Society, USA

I think this paradox is deliberately put in the starkest terms for dramatic effect and in order to be thought-provoking. We are fully free to walk away at any time, but do so would mean forsaking the companionship of God and our fellow human beings. Perhaps it would be easier to sign up to whose service, being better than total freedom, we willingly enter into. But this sounds a bit pedestrian, like a pre-nuptial contract.

Here are three people who have expressed this thought more eloquently:
First of all, Richard Lovelace, the 17th century poet who wrote to Althea from prison:

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone that soar above
Enjoy such liberty.

Next D H Lawrence in his ‘Pax‘:

All that matters is to be at one with the living God
to be a creature in the house of the God of Life.
Like a cat asleep on a chair
at peace, in peace
and at one with the master of the house, with the mistress,
at home, at home in the house of the living,
sleeping on the hearth, and yawning before the fire.
Sleeping on the hearth of the living world
yawning at home before the fire of life
feeling the presence of the living God
like a great reassurance
a deep calm in the heart
a presence
as of a master sitting at the board
in his own and greater being,
in the house of life.

And finally, Dante Alighieri in ‘The Divine Comedy‘:


Keep me as the apple of an eye: hide me under the shadow of thy wings (Compline)

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come…shall be able to separate us from the love of God.  (Romans 8.38)

O God, whom to know is to live, to serve whom is to reign, and to praise whom is the health and joy of the soul; with our lips and our heart, and with all the might that we have, do we praise, bless and adore thee; through thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

1O welche Lust! In freier Luft den Atem leicht zu heben!
2 E ‘n la sua volontade è nostra pace Canto III line 85


Never Having to Say You’re Sorry?

Love means never having to say you’re sorry. So said Ali McGraw to Ryan O’Neal as she lay dying at the end of ‘Love Story’, coining a catchphrase which summed up attitudes at the end of the flower-power decade of the 1960s.

It’s not true, of course: anyone acting seriously on this relationship advice is going to end up without any relationships, as Ella Wheeler Wilcox knew:

There’s one sad truth in life I’ve found
While journeying east and west –
The only folks we really wound
Are those we love the best.
We flatter those we scarcely know,
We please the fleeting guest,
But deal full many a thoughtless blow
To those who love us best.


‘Repentance Becomes a Trend as Thousands Tweet #SorryJesus’, reported Emma Koonse in the Christian Post on 27 September 2011. However, she did not attempt to analyse any possible reasons for this. The tweets began on Monday 26th/Tuesday 27th, according to where you are in relation to Greenwich Mean Time, and are continuing as I write this post. Well, maybe there is something in the air, to which the collective unconscious has responded via social media, since twitter and facebook are increasingly the outlet for the collective unconscious – always supposing you believe there is any such thing, of course. Some of the tweets are silly, but some are genuinely moving including the heartfelt:

‘Sorry Jesus for nailing you back to the cross for the wrongs I do.’

I think it is no coincidence that October 8th this year is the Jewish ‘Yom Kippur’ or Day of Atonement, which the Church of England might do well to copy (after all Christmas is linked with Hanukkah, and Easter with Passover) – though perhaps ‘Day of Apology’ would sound more Anglican? – Our own lectionary for the day after Yom Kippur, October 9th, is all about repentance and forgiveness. Confession and Absolution are already, of course, firmly embedded in the liturgy but: whereas once Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent, Christians, says Dom Anthony Sutch:

must recognise their own need for help and ask for forgiveness. St Benedict in his Rule expects the individual to acknowledge his wrongdoing in the presence of the community. St. Benedict thought this the best way for men to repair broken bonds. In the same way, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is initiated by the person seeking forgiveness, who is then forgiven in the name both of God and of the community…this is of enormous importance, since any fault affects everyone else. Sin is not a private zone.

Frank Sinatra has a lot to answer for in what became his theme tune, adopted by several truculent East End gangsters for their funerals:

And now, the end is here, And so I face the final curtain…
Regrets, I’ve had a few – But then again, too few to mention…
I’ve lived a life that’s full; I’ve travelled each and every highway;
And more, much more than this,
I did it My Way.



Edith Piaf famously regretted nothingneither the good anyone has done me, nor the evil, it’s all the same to me – it’s been paid for, swept away and forgotten. I start again from zero. However, although she intends to be every bit as truculent as the gangsters, she in fact crystallises the Christian message: our sins are redeemed (or paid for) by the sacrifice of our Lord’s crucifixion, enabling them to be swept away and forgotten so that we can start again at the beginning, washed in the blood of the Lamb.

And what have you been up to this week? Committed any murders in Middlesbrough? Is Aylesbury awash with adultery? Are you all stealing from each other in Swansea? No, I thought not. When we look back at our sins, they are not the major, headline-grabbers of murder, adultery and theft: what we do all have in common, surely, is ‘something to expiate, a pettiness’. In one of his best-loved poems, D H Lawrence describes beautifully just this feeling of remorse:

A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.
In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob-tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before me…
Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second comer, waiting.

He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.
The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.

And voices in me said, If you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.
But must I confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth?

Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him? Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him? Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.

And yet those voices:
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!

And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid, But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth…

And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.

I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.

I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in undignified haste.
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.

And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.

And I thought of the albatross
And I wished he would come back, my snake.

For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.

And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life.
And I have something to expiate:
A pettiness

‘The Snake’ Taormina, 1923

And then, like John Donne, we must be ‘done’ with sinning: John Donne’s ‘Hymn to God the Father

Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which is my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive those sins, through which…..
And do them still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.
Wilt Thou forgive that sin by which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.
I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
Swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy sun
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And having done that, Thou hast done; I have no more




The illustration is by Jan Martin Will via Shutterstock and she has entitled it ‘Emperor Penguin gets rejected by another Emperor Penguin.’

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