Measured Extravagance

2001-07-22 - 11:28 p.m.

One of the BYM's Texan biking buddies just passed this along:

A preacher was completing a temperance sermon. With great expression he said, "If I had all the beer in the world, I'd take it and throw it into the river."

With even greater emphasis he said, "And if I had all the wine in the world, I'd take it and throw it into the river."

And then finally, he said, "And if I had all the whiskey in the world, I'd take it and throw it into the river." He sat down.

The song leader then stood very cautiously and announced with a smile, "For our closing song, let us sing Hymn #365:

"Shall We Gather at the River."

...So I sit here Sunday night, with my glass of Knockando (a single malt Speyside whisky - a bit light for my taste but a good finish - sits well on the tongue). I had to rush to get to church this morning - I woke up late, threw on the first clean dress I saw, and bolted out of the house. Ironically, I arrived with five minutes to spare - unlike the mornings when I wake up at 7 a.m. and then arrive ten minutes late because I get caught up in answering email and cleaning the kitchen and other diversions.

For dinner, I broiled two golden trout in heavy cream, steamed a crown of broccoli, and mixed a package of seasoned couscous (otherwise known as, "oh, hell, the brown rice I'd meant to serve in five minutes is frozen in one gigantic pot-shaped brick"). For dessert, the BYM drove us downtown to Fido for two coffees and a slice of Death by Chocolate (where we ended up discussing religion, in part because there was a Unitarian joke on the Simpsons tonight).

As I mentioned earlier last week, there've been thoughts about Donne and beddability and compartmentalization floating around in my head, waiting for me to shape them into a decent entry. They're going to be floating in there for a while yet - partly because I'd have to do more reading before assembling a coherent thesis, and partly because, escribitionist though I be, I don't think I'm ready to dissect the seams and boundaries of my own life - which are why I'm interested in how Donne's sensual and spiritual phases are perceived, of course. Some other day, maybe. In the meantime, here's the full text of a poem I've occasionally quoted on some of my discussion lists:

A Letter to John Donne by C.H. Sisson

    On 27 July 1617, Donne preached at the parish church at Sevenoaks, of which he was rector, and was entertained at Knole, then the country residence of Richard Sackville, third Earl of Dorset.

I understand you well enough, John Donne
First, that you were a man of ability
Eaten by lust and by the love of God
Then, that you crossed the Sevenoaks High Street
As rector of Saint Nicholas:
I am of that parish.

To be a man of ability is not much
You may see them on the Sevenoaks platform any day
Eager men with despatch cases
Whom ambition drives as they drive the machine
Whom the certainty of a meticulous operation
Pleasures as a morbid sex a heart of stone.

That you should have spent your time in the corruption of courts
As these in that of cities, gives you no place among us:
Ability is not even the game of a fool
But the click of a computer operating in a waste
Your cleverness is dismissed from the suit
Bring out your genitals and your theology.

What makes you familiar is this dual obsession:
Lust is not what the rutting stag knows
It is to take Eve's apple and to lose
The stag's paradisal look:
The love of God comes readily
To those who have most need.

You brought body and soul to this church
Walking there through the park alive with deer
But now what animal has climbed into your pulpit?
One whose pretension is that the fear
Of God has heated him into a spirit
An evaporated man no physical ill can hurt.

Well might you hesitate at the Latin gate
Seeing such apes denying the church of God:
I am grateful particularly that you were not a saint
But extravagant whether in bed or in your shroud.
You would understand that in the presence of folly
I am not sanctified but angry.

Come down and speak to the men of ability
On the Sevenoaks platform and tell them
That at your Saint Nicholas the faith
Is not exclusive in the fools it chooses
That the vain, the ambitious and the highly sexed
Are the natural prey of the incarnate Christ.

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