Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Hurricanes of the Heart

The first line of a poem came to me again when I sat down to write this blog, so I thought I would share it with you. I present to you, John Donne’s “Holy Sonnet XIV: Batter My Heart, Three-Personed God”:

Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labor to admit you, but O, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy.
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again;
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor even chaste, except you ravish me.

One of my final courses in graduate school was a 17th Century poetry course, taught by the chair of the English Department at the University of Houston, and John Donne was one of about 10 poets whose work I came to know more intimately. The poets of that time were very much concerned with the nature of the Christian God; they needed to understand, as many of us still do, the relationship between God and “Man”…humans…persons. God, in this poem is “three-personed,” which I find very comforting…God with us…a God like us. But more interesting is the relationship between that God and us—and how apt this poem is in the 21st Century…in my life…in relation to my journey.

In the poem, the human spirit struggles between a love for God and a natural tendency to turn away from that saving Grace. “Reason,” the faculty which reigns in God’s stead in the human mind, is “captived, and proves weak or untrue.” The idea of freedom here is the freedom from temptation…the freedom from the weakness of the human condition…freedom from imperfection in love. The speaker of the poem asks that God storm the human castle and take the soul captive, in order to truly free it from a sinister bondage—that Earthly curse requiring the pain of repeated error and incompetence in things spiritual, loving, and good.

The professor who taught this course is a paragon of intellectualism…known as a GPA “buster.” I took the course, frankly, because it was the only available offering that fit with the final course requirement I needed to graduate. I knew I liked Donne and Herbert and Wroth, off the top of my head, and I love poetry, but the course itself didn’t sound too exciting—it was listed as 17th Century Non-Dramatic Literature—and, as I mentioned, the man had a reputation, and I was determined to beat my undergraduate GPA. (I missed a 4.0 by the equivalent of one course—a story for another day!). Let’s just say that I regretted that I had missed the pinnacle by so small a margin, and so each successive "perfect" semester compounded my secret longing into an ever-increasing goal to surpass that mild disappointment.

And so, I took the course, and it turned out to be one of the best courses of all those I took during my three year stint at the University. It was a small seminar of five women, plus the instructor. Finally, I was able to speak!!! In seminars of 18-22 students who were seasoned and much more talkative than I, my opportunities for contribution had been severely limited. Here, I felt like a graduate student. And I worked harder in this course than in any other. Perhaps I could have done more, but I had two other courses that semester, and I was graduating, and I did the best that I could at the time. In any case, I earned the dreaded A-minus.

I know, I know. But all of you perfectionists out there are groaning with me …I know you are. So, did I mind? Sure, it’s still a thorn in my paw sometimes…that feeling that I JUST MISSED out on something really exceptional. And a wry expression comes over my face when I think about how my GPA’s match. In fact, if I’m really in a self-flagellating mood, I will think that it just goes to show I’m not quite good enough, or that it's part of the Universe's plan to keep me humble or wanting more. (I told you those little mean voices are nasty!) So what does this have to do with my journey now? Well, that brings us back to the first line of the poem, inspired by recent events, meteorological and otherwise.

Previously, I likened the Queenly awakening to being “born again,” and just as the newly converted are often quickly tempted by the old lifestyle, habits, or “wicked ways,” the newly crowned Queen is quite vulnerable to the slings and arrows from those around her who are threatened by her changing attitudes and behaviors. A new Queen, when she discovers her dream, must make decisions about her life: What will she do? Where will she go? Who will be in her court? The natural consequence of decision is change, and change can be unnerving, to say the least. So, I made a “First Things First” kind of decision of seismic proportions, with long-lasting repercussions, and as the devastating weather stormed into the Gulf Coast shores, my heart was being battered by a hurricane of its own creation.

I apologize for being vague here, but the last thing I want is for my journey blog to sound like a soap opera. Suffice to say that I listened hard to the voices of my dreams and stepped out into the fury that I had avoided for so long. I realized, as the waves came crashing over the levees around my heart, that I had, on a fairly regular basis, “protected” myself out of a life of my own creation. I think that’s where the line from the poem emerged. A friend had told me that life was falling into a pattern of “the same old, same old.” I responded with news of my decision and wrote:It’s brought up all kinds of things. I think it’s been part of the relentless ache in my heart all these years, but I was unable to recognize it as such because I’d mentally convinced myself that things were “better this way.” And, still, in some ways they were. Now, it is merely the right time. So…not really the same old same old over here. More tumultuous than the weather really. Hurricanes of the heart.

After writing those last two lines, I started hearing the refrain of “Batter my heart, three-personed God” run through my mind. Now, in this particular case, I am not struggling with my religion—although I know that it is on "the list" of things to address on my journey—but the essence of the poem that I hear right now, in this situation, is that in order to be truly “free,” we must allow that love and passion to overcome us. We have to be willing to be stormed like an enemy castle, or battered as by a storm. We have to weather the transition from the realm of fear and indecision into the Promised Land of strength, conviction, love, and plenty.

Those evolutionary storms of passage may be large, small, or merely imagined, but succumbing to the paralyzing threat is far worse than choosing to live through the turbulent paradigm shift(s) in our lives. And I promise you—once you find the true path, you will move out of the damaging winds and heavy rains and into that dead quiet center where nothing can touch you. When your “eye” and your “I” align, you can see the future, and the fear will leave you. Each true decision you make will show you the way.

Welcome the storm that leads to the peace of understanding…or, if you will, the peace that passes understanding…but don’t let it devastate you. Rather, let it refine your senses and clarify your thoughts, ideas, and dreams. Let the winds blow, the rains plummet, the hail pelt, the lightning flash, and the thunder roar, but stand in the calm center of your being and dare to dream in the face of it all.

Note: My heart goes out to everyone affected by Katrina—this storm of Nature completely surpasses the gravity of any hurricane of the heart I might be living through right now.

© Nicole J. Williams, 2005, all rights reserved

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