THOMAS TRAHERNE: A MAN FOR TODAY
A NEW MILLENNIUM seems tinged with foreboding, our hearts are fearful about what might happen. Is this a Christian attitude? Probably not, but Jesus predicted that it would be so, and followed with these words of encouragement: ‘Lift up your heads for your liberation is close at hand’. Christ comes, the kingdom is in our midst, and we are to inject the true and lasting joy that has come to us in Christ into the world about us, into the hearts and lives of others, since we of all people know what it is we are celebrating life in abundance. It will mean discarding our ghetto mentality, our sense of inferiority and fear of ridicule and recognise with St. Paul that the world, life and death, the present and the future are all ours and we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s (1 Cor 3: 22-23).
Creation too is ours. Thus care of the environment is a supremely Christian task. An incarnate Christ has hallowed his creation for all time and we must affirm the world and deny only what has been corrupted by that aspect of the world we are not free to love 1 John 2: 15-17. A Christ-centred, sacramental faith will also know how to hold in check all deviant teaching, old heresies in new guise claiming allegiance: neo-pagan cults of goddesses and mother earth, a pantheism that would make ourselves and the whole material creation divine, and would promise escape from cold reality by absorption into the undifferentiated spirit of the universe. Our sense of inadequacy stems from imbibing the compromises of secular suppositions in this technological post-Christian era. We need to go back behind all of this to find an authentic way forward.
Thomas Traherne, (c. 1636-74) a Church of England clergyman, poet and writer, may point this way for us. His outward life seemed uneventful, though he lived through the turbulent years of the Conunonwealth and the Restoration, and his writings, ‘including his best known ‘Four Centuries of Meditations’, were only discovered in the early years of this century, and most of them remain unpublished
A man of deep prayer and mystical awareness, and a lover of good company, Traheme impresses us with his bold affirmation of the world of nature and of men, his communion in and with them, almost to the point of identification (though we must recall he is a poet). God too is found in them, but as Creator and Redeemer in a truly Christian sense, immanent yet transcendent.
You never enjoy the world aright, till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars, and perceive yourself be the sole heir of the whole world. (Cent 1 No. 29).
But that is not all there is to say: ‘and more than so’, he adds, you are more than heirs of the whole world ‘because men are in it who are everyone sole heirs as well as you’. The bliss is a shared bliss with no selfish grasping and appropriation. Neither is there loss of individualitv or personhood. This is truly the Communion of Saints.
Moreover the enjoyment of the world Traherne speaks of is itself an act of praise and adoration of God. We can never experience the inexpressible delight implied by Traheme’s use of the word ‘enjoy’ until, as he puts it in the same place.
You can sing and rejoice and delight in God as misers do in gold and kings in sceptres..
Creation, then, brings us to God and invokes our praise. Thus we can never despise or misuse it, Traheme, standing securely in the biblical tradition, tells us, ‘Can you take too much joy in your Father works?’ he exclaims in No.25 of the same Century. His categorical reply is given instantly: ‘He is himself in everything’. not that God is everything. He is no pantheist. It is right and fitting to see the Creator as immanent in that which he has made, revealing himself to us there, what is sometimes called panentheism, and we should not be afraid to speak in this way ourselves
Our enjoyment of the world is true and lasting and even at times of darkness and foreboding we can, like Traherne, still see the world aright and thereby be co-workers and co-preachers with the Lord to set it aright in its rediscovery of the One who made it.
A Sister of Holy Cross Convent, Rempstone Hall