On this day in 1868 the Irish poet William Allingham was visiting Alfred Lord Tennyson on the Isle of Wight.
Luncheon. Then T and I walk into croquet ground, talking of Christianity.
‘What I want’, he said, ‘is an assurance of immortality.’
For my part I believe in God: can say no more.
A butterfly is seen as a symbol of the transition from earthy to eternal life. What would provide the poets with assurance of immortality? How would they recognise it? Is faith the basis of Allingham’s ‘I believe in God: can say no more’?
‘Shall I ever,’ he asks on Easter Day, ‘receive the Sacrament with tranquility? Surely the time will come.’
from “Life of Johnson, Volume 2 1765-1776” by James Boswell
Doctor Johnson was staying with his friends the Thrales when he wrote this, well aware of his own sinfulness and the gulf that that could give rise to between himself and God, but also believing that salvation is ours: Christ has Passed-over through death to eternal life and so shall we. Believing does not mean being totally assured in my mind and heart that salvation is mine, and for the melancholic Johnson, all the theology in the world could not enkindle such certainty. Rather it is to accept the promise of salvation, even with a tiny part of myself, and forgive myself for my unbelief. Even a mustard seed faith can leaven the lump that I am; I can receive the Sacrament in fear and trembling, but at the same time, at a deeper level than my doubts, with tranquility.
Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1Corinthians 5:6-8)
Pattie said that morning, ‘Do you know the opposite of Faith? It’s certainty.’ Perhaps, in a ‘naught for your comfort’ way, certainty belongs to hope – or deep hope against hope – rather than faith?
But this passage from Roger Deakin’s inspiring book, Wildwood – A Journey Through Trees (Penguin 2008, p 14) makes Pattie’s case very well. The writer is describing sleeping in a shed in an orchard on an August night.
To sleep half a field away from the house, tucked into the hedge, with an open door facing south into the meadow and plenty of cool night air, must surely add very much to the chances of sleep.
…There’s more truth about a camp than a house. Planning laws need not worry the improvising builder because temporary structures are more beautiful anyway, and you don’t need permission for them. There’s more truth about a camp because that is the position we are in. The house represents what we ourselves would like to be on earth: permanent rooted, here for eternity. But a camp represents the true reality of things: we’re just passing through.
And as Saint Francis would say, welcoming Sister Death: Laudato Si’ !