Joy and delight in Creation
October is a month with a number of commemorations of well-known saints. We have among others Francis of Assisi, Paulinus of York, Ethelburga, Wilfrid of Ripon, Edward the Confessor, Teresa of Avila, Ignatius of Antioch and St Luke the Evangelist. Paulinus’s day, October 10, is also the day when a little known mystical writer, Thomas Traherne (1674), is to be remembered. In a month when congregations in parish churches are especially focussed on the gifts of God’s creation in harvest thanksgiving, and St Francis encourages in us an attitude of wonder and joy in God’s creation, Thomas Traherne’s writing reinforces this joy and delight. The central place of creation in English spirituality is a recurring feature that is found the Celtic saints, who influenced St. Francis at the monastery of Bobbio, in Julian of Norwich, in Richard Hooker’s universe ‘drenched with deity’ and in the prayers of Lancelot Andrewes.
‘As it seemed in infancy’
For Traherne this joy and delight in creation was in him from childhood and even in times of grief and sadness it never left him.
O, what treasure is every sand when truly understood! Who can love any thing that God hath made too much? His infinite goodness and wisdom and power and glory are in it.
Upon this I began to believe that all other creatures were such that God was himself in their creation, and that is Almighty power wholly exerted. And that every creature is indeed as it seemed in my infancy, not as it is commonly apprehended. Every thing being sublimely rich and great and glorious.
Three centuries before Traherne Julian of Norwich, inspired by revelations of divine love had claimed ‘All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.’ In the same spirit Traherne claimed ‘A sight of happiness is happiness … all things were well in their proper places. I alone was out of frame and had need to be mended, for all things were God’s treasures in their proper places, and I was to be restored in God’s image.’ (Centuries of Meditation III.60) Like Julian, Traherne saw that ‘love was his meaning’, so he never lost his sense of wonder and amazement before the goodness and glory of God revealed in the whole creation but more particularly in the creation of man.
Love in the fountain is love in the stream, and love in the stream is equally glorious with love in the fountain. Though it streameth to its object it abideth in the lover, and is the love of the lover.
Restless ’til I rest in thee
In To rest in God there are overtones of St Augustine of Hippo:
O infinite God, centre of my soul, convert me powerfully unto thee, that in thee I may take rest, for thou didst make me for thee, and my heart is unquiet till it be united to thee.
Margaret Bottrall claims that in a time like ours ‘Traherne’s gospel speaks with a new urgency. He speaks to people increasingly aware of the appalling threats to earth, air and sea brought about by mankind’s lack of reverence for the world they have inherited. He speaks to people aware that religious meditation is a world-wide practice conducive to inner peace. Traherne is a profoundly Christian writer, but in no narrow sense. In a period when the pursuit of pleasure is so relentlessly advertised, we might do well to pay attention to this Herefordshire poet who advocated the pursuit of happiness and charted a way to blessedness.’
A good way into the spirit of Traherne’s writing is the small book Landscapes of Glory published by Darton, Longman and Todd at £2.50. It is a series of daily readings with Thomas Traherne edited by AM Allchin.
Arthur Middleton is Rector of Boldon, Honorary Canon of Durham and a Tutor at St Chad’s College.