Alan Jones, in his book Passion for Pilgrimage: Notes for the Journey Home (1989), displays an amazing depth of reading! Often we pass over quotes as if they did not come from anywhere. So I thought it would be interesting to peel back the cover of Jones’ work and shine a light on seven people he references. As you will see, he thinks all his listening to authors and artists is listening to the Spirit at work in them. As he keeps saying: “God has fallen in love with you and wants you to come home.” Let’s see how far we get with that.
Today’s scripture reading
So Jesus’ brothers advised him, “Leave here and go to Judea so your disciples may see your miracles that you are performing. For no one who seeks to make a reputation for himself does anything in secret. If you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” (For not even his own brothers believed in him.)
So Jesus replied, “My time has not yet arrived, but you are ready at any opportunity! The world cannot hate you, but it hates me, because I am testifying about it that its deeds are evil. You go up to the feast yourselves. I am not going up to this feast because my time has not yet fully arrived.” When he had said this, he remained in Galilee.
But when his brothers had gone up to the feast, then Jesus himself also went up, not openly but in secret. So the Jewish leaders were looking for him at the feast, asking, “Where is he?” There was a lot of grumbling about him among the crowds. Some were saying, “He is a good man,” but others, “He deceives the common people.” However, no one spoke openly about him for fear of the Jewish leaders. – John 7:3-13 (NET)
More thoughts for meditation about William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
William Butler Yeats is one of the most celebrated poets in the English language. He is also one of the most difficult to talk about in relation to following Jesus.
He was born into a Protestant family who was part of the minority rule of Ireland for hundreds of years. His grandfather was a rector in the Church of Ireland. Yeats told a familiar, almost clichéd story about what took away any Christian faith in his upbringing. It was, he said, empirical science. Charles Darwin and John Tyndall, as for many other Victorians, persuaded Yeats that Christianity was a fraud.
Yet he found a materialist view of the world inadequate for his searching, speculating mind. In this he was, again, not unlike many other upper-class non-Christians during the Victorian period when England was the most powerful empire in the world. In the first instance, Yeats followed Matthew Arnold in understanding Celtic identity as unusually alert to the spirit world, particularly fairies. Yeats’s earliest work as a writer focused on distilling Irish folk narratives and myths into verse and prose, describing a world where there was always a chance of seeing a spirit or “eternal beauty wandering on her way”.
When Yeats was 24 he wrote a poem that may be one of the all-time favorites. In it, you can see his influence in many movies of the last 20 years in which a child is lured in fairyland or left for the fairies: Peter Pan, of course, Hellboy, Changeling, and Outlander, to name a few. Here is part of it.
Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand. — The Stolen Child (1889)
Yeats may be the stolen child himself. In another Victorian-like way, he filled the gap in his early spiritual life with theosophy and then with a commitment to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. After infighting led to the dissolution of that secret society, Yeats maintained his commitment to magical thinking. His marriage to Georgie Hyde-Lees in 1917 further deepened his sense that he lived among the revelations of other worlds as they devoted themselves to automatic writing led by spirit guides.
But Yeats never quite gave up on Christianity. Take The Ballad of Father Gilligan (1890). In this poem an old priest is too tired to visit a dying man. But his place is taken, he learns, by an angel, visiting on his behalf. When Father Gilligan awakes and realizes this, Yeats has him say:
He who hath made the night of stars
For souls who tire and bleed,
Sent one of His great angels down
To help me in my need.
He who is wrapped in purple robes,
With planets in His care,
Had pity on the least of things
Asleep upon a chair.”
Those are not the lines of a man unable to imaginatively sympathize with a priest’s prayer.
At the end of his life Yeats writes the poem Jones quotes, below. His Supernatural Songs blur the lines between Christian and pagan principles. In his fantasy world, “Ribh” is Yeats the “wild old wicked man,” an imaginary hermit and theologian.
Suggestions for action from Alan Jones
“Our anger and disappointment seem justified. Things are not as they should be, and if God isn’t responding, then who is?
One of the hardest things for people to admit is their hatred of God. Hatred of and disappointment in God underlie a great deal of what passes for unbelief. They are also common among people who consider themselves religious. ‘God’ is continually letting them down by not doing what he is supposed to do. People believe, but resent what they believe. Hatred of God, however, can be a very important stage in our homecoming. William Butler Yeats wrote, ‘I study hatred – a passion in my own control.’ [full 24-line poem] Hatred is a dangerous route back to God, but one that many have to take.
Then my delivered soul herself shall learn
A darker knowledge and in hatred turn
From every thought of God mankind has had.
Thought is a garment and the soul’s a bride
That cannot in that trash and tinsel hide:
Hatred of God may bring the soul to God.
The pilgrimage of Lent places us in a crucible of love that purges away the trash and tinsel of our thoughts and feelings about God. We may even have to get to the stage of ‘hating God,’ or, better, ‘hating’ the idol we worship instead of God. What we worship is often a trashy (vindictive or sentimental, according to our mood and training) ‘God’ made to our own specifications. We live in a culture that specializes in custom-built gods for personal use. Westerners have often been guilty of judging other forms of belief in parts of the world in a supercilious way. Christians have denigrated non-Christians for worshiping many gods and for indulging in what looks like superstitious practices. But our pantheon is no less crowded and our behavior no more rational than that of other peoples.”
It would be nice if we had a soul friend to ask whether we have “trash or tinsel” littering our spiritual landscape. As it is we might just have our own self-reflection which is often filled with the same hate we have for “god.” Jones at least brings up some good questions to ask, like a caring friend might, if they were not afraid of being hated for asking.
Today is William Wilberforce Day! Get to know this bon vivant who became a serious foe of slavery at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.