Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Preaching as God's Violence

Preparing to preach on prayer come Sunday, we took a moment to review John Donne's famous sonnet, "Batter My Heart."  It is a brilliant but disturbing series of petitions to the Almighty, asking God to beat upon the poet's stubborn heart, like soldiers breaking down the city walls or even -- yes -- like a lover taking his beloved by force.  Not, and we cannot say this too strongly, not a poem to be shared with the average congregation these days.  (Although we plan to quote a short section ourselves).

Anyway, this led us to a stray line from Donne's sermon preached before Charles I at Whitehall on 1 April 1627 (as a new war with France was heating up):

In this Church, [God's] ordinance is ordnance:  his ordinance of preaching batters the soul, and by that breach the Spirit enters.

Get it?  Preaching is God's weapon, God's cannon, used against our own souls, to break them open the way cannons breaks the city wall -- and send in the Spirit as an invading and occupying army.  He goes on to say that "[God's] ministers are earth-quakes, and shake an earthly soul."  There's quite a bit more in that line as well.

Not, we say again, imagery for all times and places.  But worth meditating upon before one stands up to preach.

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