Posts Tagged ‘creative nonfiction’

(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

Jonathan Edwards was a great American evangelist and revivalist.  He was born in East Windsor, Connecticut and was the fifth of eleven children.  He and his siblings were all well-educated.  Edwards was not only a preacher, theologian, and missionary, but he was also considered a great intellectual.  He was very active in the First Great Awakening in the American colonies, and oversaw some of the earliest revivals in 1733–1735 in Northampton, Massachusetts.

In many of his memoirs, he seems to be a divine journalist and mystical meteorologist, reporting the amazing works of God in various communities.  Like Fox, he is fond of weather imagery and refers to a revival as a “shower of divine blessing” (Narrative 155), and a spiritual awakening among the youth as being “like a flash of lightning upon the hearts of young people all over the town” (Narrative149). These kinds of images shift the focus from the evangelists to God and enable the reader to visualize what the Spirit is doing.  The author also implies that preachers have no more control over revivals than they have over the making of weather.

Edwards depicts God in terms of supernatural strength and energy, using His strong arm to smite and jerk and awaken humans from spiritual slumber. He describes the revival in Northampton using many exercise metaphors and he emphasizes concrete verbs showing physical exertion to illustrate God’s presence in the towns. He refers to revivals as “works” and “awakenings”, and describes the Spirit striving vigorously to win over the hearts of people.

Throughout his memoirs in A Faithful Narrative, he uses language that creates a sense of motion and strife and physical strain. Upon witnessing a great urgency towards spiritual matters in one community he writes: “…the Spirit of God began to extraordinarily set in, and wonderfully to work amongst us…and some of them wrought upon in a very remarkable manner: The only thing in their view was to get into the kingdom of heaven, and everyone appeared pressing into it” (150). The language connoting physical activity in these passages gives the reader a sense of movement and people straining to get closer to God.  In the last sentence, you can envision a crowd trying to squeeze through a door, pressing against each other in desperation to get in first.

Edwards describes the supernatural swiftness of the conversion of souls during this time, and how humans could not possibly have accomplished this on their own:

God has also seemed to go out of His usual way in the quickness of His work, and the swift progress the Spirit has made in His operations on the hearts of many…seized with strong convictions of their guilt and misery…

The work of God’s Spirit seemed to be at its greatest height in this town…When God in so remarkable a manner took the work into His own hands, there was as much done in a day or two at ordinary times, with all endeavors that men can use, and with such a blessing as we commonly have, is done in a year. (159)

Edwards humanizes God, and then creates a sense of tension between Him and people.  He puts flesh and bones on the Spirit, and allows the reader to see God at work in the souls of men. The reader gets the sense of men being sleepwalkers who God is sharply awakening from slumber. He juxtaposes physical strength and supernatural power, thus allowing the reader to sense the activity of God.

1832 republication of "A Faithful Narrati...

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(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

George Fox was a renowned seventeenth century English dissenter who founded the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).  He traveled throughout Britain, challenging the “hireling preachers” of his time and suffering tremendous persecution.  Fox was born in Leicestershire, England (now known as Fenny Drayton). George was the eldest of four children of Christopher Fox, a successful weaver.

In his journals and other writings, Fox frequently uses surreal imagery to portray God. He presents his life story in a way that leads the reader to believe that he was born into a world of powers far greater than himself, and was chosen to carry divine seed to a parched and weary Earth.  He artfully uses ocean waves and clouds, elements and stars, and sparkling fiery seeds to depict the movement of the Spirit.  His memoirs seem to have been written with a magic quill, because they twinkle with a fantasy-like quality.  His poetic style is reminiscent of Bunyan in that he depicts himself as a seeking hero on a spiritual journey. He creates a mystical sense of place by applying geographical dimensions and weather patterns to abstractions such as good and evil. Michael Graves asserts that this kind of language enables the reader to visualize and vicariously “travel” with the author:

…to name life a Pilgrimage overlays a gloss of geographic factors which may have never occurred to the person who hears the metaphor applied to life for the first time.  At the very least, the idea of pilgrimage may call forth associations which have lain dormant… [e.g., living in an evil place; finding a straight path; traveling light (and in the light), etc.]…( 364)

Fox had visions from his youth, which he referred to as “openings” because his eyes were opened to the spiritual.  He contrasts light and darkness to show the spiritual battle within man’s heart and on the earth:  “I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death; but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness.  In that also I saw the infinite love of God, and I had great openings” (Journal 87).  He uses the ocean to portray the vastness of the forces of evil and good, and a sense of overwhelming waters inwardly and outwardly.  Darkness is a metaphor for death, and light is the symbol for the love of God.  Fox effectively uses alliteration here as well to couple “darkness” with “death” and “light” with “love”, while making the infinite into something finite and visible. Nature and elements were commonly used by Fox as to describe spiritual revelations. In his journal, he records an experience of being within a mystical cloud:

One morning as I was sitting by the fire, a great cloud came over me, and a temptation beset me; and I sat still.  It was said “All things come by nature”; and the elements and stars came over me, so that I was in a manner quite clouded with it.  But as I sat still under it and let it alone, a living hope and a true voice arose in me, which said, “There is a living God who made all things.”  Immediately the cloud and temptation vanished away, and life rose over it; my heart was glad, and I praised the living God. (Journal 94)

The visionary cloaked in cloud is reminiscent of the story of Moses. The imagery works because it shows that Fox was alone with God and people could not see what was taking place as they communed.  Then he creates the sense of light piercing through the cloud when the “true voice” speaks.  Elements and stars and clouds are real but uncontrollable things in the universe, and the juxtaposition helps readers to understand God as having the same unfathomable power. Fox writes of God sending him into the world with a message, in a manner that bears resemblance to Dante embarking upon his journey:

Some time after the Lord commanded me to go abroad into the world, which was like a briery, thorny wilderness.  When I came in the Lord’s mighty power with the Word of life into the world, the world swelled, and made a noise like the great raging waves of the sea.  Priests and professors, magistrates and people, were all like the sea when I came to proclaim the day of the Lord amongst them, and to preach repentance unto them. (Journal 102)

The words “world” and “Word” flow together in this description of the world swelling and raging as he is sent with divine power.  He creates with his language a sense of two great powers raging against one another, and the sense of this overwhelming task that the preacher has been commissioned to carry out. The analogy of the sea evokes a sense of great power behind him as he goes forth. Fox often writes about the “Seed of God” that he is “sowing” around Europe.  He describes his sense of God having prepared the soil in Scotland before he arrives with divine seed:

For when I first set my horse’s foot upon Scottish ground I felt the Seed of God to sparkle about me, like innumerable sparks of fire.

Not but that there is abundance of the thick, cloddy earth of hypocrisy and falseness above, and a briery, brambly nature, which is to be burnt up with God’s Word, and ploughed up with His spiritual plough, before God’s Seed brings forth heavenly and spiritual fruit to his glory.  But the husbandman is to wait in patience. (Journal 316)

This scene of the author’s horse touching Scottish ground could be expected to come from the pages of King Arthur or “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Like Jack, the hero sets out on a journey with only some magic beans and has to battle with evil giants as he climbs toward heaven. The sparkling seeds around his feet give a touch of mystique to his divine calling and the fire is a metaphor for the Spirit.  He uses the thick clods of earth and the thorns to show the resistance that he expects to encounter, and the condition of people’s minds before they have been tilled with patience. The mystical plough of God has been given to him as the gardener, and he is expected to work diligently.  Like Rumpelstiltskin in the Brothers Grimm tale, Fox seems to be able to “spin straw into gold.”  He transfigures the properties of earthly things into heavenly things by using fantasy-like literary devices.

John in the New Testament addressed new believers as “little children” in his letters, and Fox uses a similar style in his epistles. In one of his letters, he refers to converts as “children of the light”:

Sing and rejoice, ye children of the Day and of the Light, for the Lord is at work in this thick night of Darkness that may be felt; and Truth doth flourish as the rose, and the lilies do grow among the thorns, and the plants atop of the hills, and upon them the lambs do skip and play.  And never heed the tempests nor the storms, floods nor rains, for the Seed of Christ is over all and doth reign. (Epistle 227)

This passage is illuminated and lyrical, and the style evokes a sense of reverence. The tempests, floods, and rains are metaphors for the evils that can drown out the “Seed of Christ”.  The Truth is depicted as the rose, and as lilies among thorns, because they are flowers that are recognized as fragrant and lovely.  The lambs skipping represent the purity of children of God, and the tops of the hills indicate that believers transcend the world and its ways.  The elevated tone adds to the sense of being in this place of light and truth with the writer.

Fox’s metaphors, similes, and analogies depict might, authority, and movement, and a sense of light and beauty.  Through his poetic and magical style, he draws the reader into a sense of being in the presence of something glowing and desirable.

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