Note: This year, Trinity Sunday, being the Sunday after the Day of Pentecost, which is fifty days after Easter Day, falls on May 27, 2018
Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow mee, and bend
Your force to breake, blow, burn, and make mee new.
I, like an usurpt town to’another due,
Labor to’admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearley I love you, and would be lov’d faine,
But am betroth’d unto your enemie;
Divorce mee, untie or breake that knot againe,
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I,
Except you enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish mee.
Holy Sonnet XIV: Batter my heart, three-person’d God (c. 1617), John Donne (1572-1631)
As I read and re-read and re-read Donne’s ode to the Trinity, I am o’erwhelmed by a paradox. (I define paradox as that which, on first glance, makes little, no sense, thus, is nonsense, but which, at its heart, embraces, embodies truth).
At first glance, Donne yearns to give himself wholly to God:
Batter my heart three-person’d God…
overthrow mee, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make mee new…
and, given his repetitive use of (and, thus, his stress on) the word “mee”, he also yearns to experience, to know that he, once surrendered to God (and his language of this surrender is varied and visceral as he wills to be imprisoned, enthralled, aye, ravished by God), will be and remain himself and not someone, something else.
How can this be? How can Donne or anyone surrender to God and remain her/himself?
Here, I perceive truth. God creates each of us in the imago Dei, the Divine Image. Suchwise, we, each and all, are alike. Yet each of us is created as an individual self (such is the wonderous variety of God’s imagination!), which none of us loses when surrendering to God.
Even more, when we surrender to God, God “make(s) (us) new”, which is another way of saying, we each are remade into the selves that God, from the dawn of time, ever intended we be and become.
What a thought!
Illustration: The Trinity, Fernando Yáñez de la Almedina (1475-1536). Note: The artist portrays the red-robed God the Father seated on the crest of the cosmos, bearing in his hands the crucified Jesus with the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, hovering o’er Jesus’ head.
3 thoughts on “In anticipation of Trinity Sunday, a wonderment…”
Thank you Paul! I love being remade by God after surrendering to Him…Yet I also love being my..self..too!! Primarily because I know that God will still love me even when I mess up…
But here’s what really struck me about this post. You mentioned that we are all alike because God created us in his image. As you know I’m currently as LEGOLAND where it’s all About fun!! People are laughing and chatting and gushing with joy over their kids. We all embrace and accept each other and smile WITHOUT taking into account our ethnicities, political
Or religious affiliations, or biases. People are kind to each other, even respectful… I wonder what causes us to behave this wonderful way when we are in settings of joy and fun. Why can’t we be like this all the time, considering what we have in common (vacationing and having fun) as opposed to judging each other when we are in our normal environments?? I wish I had an answer to that thought / question too.
Thank you, Paul, for raising the idea of paradox in connection with Donne’s sonnet. I had never thought of the poem in those terms exactly, and I must admit, there’s a part of me that has always been a bit uncomfortable with Donne’s language in this poem. The idea of surrender, in many contexts in our world, means being taken prisoner, losing one’s freedom and autonomy, becoming a person whose own will is subdued and conquered in favor of forced obedience to the capturing authority. His apparent willingness to accept that kind of surrender, and the very direct way in which he voices that willingness has always made me squirm a little.
Your emphasis on paradox suggests that surrendering and thus, in a sense, becoming God’s prisoner actually results in one being granted the greatest gift of freedom that is possible to a human being, the freedom to become and be exactly, wholly, and passionately the individual that one was created by God to be. In Jungian terms, I can envision this as a surrender and a consequent divine capture of the wilful, self-centered ego and in that capture connecting the self-directed, self-immersed ego to the greater, radically freeing Self that is largely unconscious and hidden in the life of most human individuals.
Indeed this is a paradox, for it means that freedom is not in any wise what most of us humans believe it is, which is getting our own way about everything or almost everything. Freedom in Donne’s sense and Jung’s sense is something much closer to the ability to walk a path that has, from the beginning of eternity, had your unique name on the signpost at its beginning. And what greater satisfaction can there ever be but to be able to be who you were created to be and to follow your own passionately desired, destiny-fulfilling road through this life and into the next
Thank you for once again stimulating my thinking, my dreaming, and my feeling, Paul. I am in a totally different place now than I was when I first read the poem when I opened your post.
Much love and continuing gratitude for your inspiration,
Loretta, you paint so fine and endearing an image of LEGOLAND. I am grateful that you, Kim, and Kendal not only have the benefit of the image, but also the joy and virtue of the experience. Perhaps it is that folk gathered there can and do interact with kindness and care because of the environs (or as blessed Tim would say, “the ambiance”) of the moment; that is, all have come to engage the richness and joy of a common experience. It’s that commonality, especially one designed for fun and inspiration and the exercise of and the growth in imagination (as opposed to other sorts of common experiences, for example, debate or war, etc.) that draws folk in and binds folk together for good. Again, I am grateful, verily, thrilled for you all.
Karen, as I read and reflect on your response, it occurs to me – anew – that I’ve come to believe that most of what I read in scripture is beyond worldly comprehension; that is, God is holy, thus, Other than our earthbound ways and thoughts and terminology. Hence, in this instance, in considering submission nd freedom, surrender to God is not…is never about loss or degradation of self, but rather, as you point out, in Jungian terms, it is the pathway toward surest integration with the divine Self; that integration being the goal, the aim, the destiny of life. In this regard, I also am reminded of that line in the prayer that speaks of God “whose service is perfect freedom” and that oft-considered difficult text of Ephesians 5.21f, which speaks of submission, which, I think, when misinterpreted, places the burden of surrender on the wife to her husband. However, I think, verse 5.21 is key, indeed, the key: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. It is the dual-mutual submission to an-all-loving-all-Self-sacrificing Christ that makes our surrender to one another possible, indeed, the truest act of our humankindness. Even more, I’ve come to believe that this passage isn’t at all about marriage, but rather employs the image of marriage as an earthly metaphor or analogy for what – cosmically, eternally – God in Christ alway is doing, indeed, being with the church.
OK, I’ve said enough, perhaps too much. Yet even in writing all this, please, know that I struggle with surrendering or submitting to God. All the time. There are moments, as in this case of reflecting on dear John Donne’s words, that I behold what I consider a truth that, for a moment, possesses my mind and heart, soul and spirit in a fashion most liberating. Then, in the next instant, I’m back to resisting, fighting against the God who loves me. In this, I trust, as Loretta, “that God will still love me even when I mess up.”
Love you, each and both, beyond the capacity to tell,