Monday, April 7, 2014

"Even in the midnight of afflictions"

Timothy George on "John Donne in Lent":
.... Donne would be a lot more popular today if he had been a “name it and claim it” kind of Christian. But however ecstatic his experience of God might have been, the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral continued to struggle with such disagreeable realities as sin, suffering, repentance, sickness, decay, and death. We prefer a Lent with all lilies and no ashes. But Donne knew that the difficult disciplines of prayer, fasting, self-denial, and cross-bearing, together with the holy discontent of waiting for an answer that does not come—such rigors are necessary medicines for what he called the “insatiable whirlpool of the covetous mind.” ....

At the beginning of Lent, 1630, Donne delivered his most famous sermon at Whitehall in the presence of King Charles I. Published as “Death’s Duell,” it was a meditation on death: the death of Christ and the death that comes to every person, both to paupers lying in a nameless grave and to the high and mighty in their “half-acre tombs” with elegant epitaphs chiseled in stone.

The entire life of Christ was a continual passion, Donne said, and “all our Lent may well be a continual Good Friday.” The consequences of sin, both ours and Adam’s, are momentous. Yet John Donne also knew that this world does not terminate upon itself.
Even in the depth of any spiritual night, in the shadow of death, in the midnight of afflictions and tribulations, God brings light out of darkness and gives his saints occasion of glorifying him, not only in the dark (though it be dark) but from the dark (because it is dark).... This is a way unconceivable by any, inexpressible to any, but those that have felt that manner of God’s proceeding in themselves, that be the night what night it will... they see God better in the dark.
John Donne confessed to his friend George Garrard that it was his desire to die in the pulpit. Although he did not leave this world mid-sermon, his last deliverance at St. Paul’s left a distinct impression. From his emaciated body and dying face, he peered out on his congregation. Many of them, his biographer said, “did secretly ask that question in Ezekiel: Do these bones live?” Draped in his funeral shroud, Donne still looks out on those who come to St. Paul’s to see his effigy. The last line on his epitaph is his own: “He lies here in the dust but beholds Him whose name is Rising.” [more]