Tag Archives: Thomas Traherne

17 June: Traherne XLVII

The immensity of God is an eternal tabernacle. 
Why then we should not be sensible of that as much as of our dwellings, I cannot tell, 
unless our corruption and sensuality destroy us. 
We ought always to feel, admire, and walk in it. 
It is more clearly objected to the eye of the soul, 
than our castles and palaces to the eye of the body. 
Those accidental buildings may be thrown down, 
or we may be taken from them, 
but this can never be removed, 
it abideth for ever. 
It is impossible not to be within it, 
nay, to be so surrounded as evermore to be in the centre and midst of it.

From Thomas Traherne, Centuries of Meditations.

Tabernacle here means a tent, in particular the Tent of Meeting in Exodus, where the Lord was present to his people in a special way. Objected to means something like ‘aimed at’ rather than disputed or negated. So God’s immensity is aimed at the eye of the soul, to impress and attract it, like an earthly palace or castle that we may be attracted to visit. But no rebel baron or oppressive king will ever throw down our heavenly home.

This ancient tomb has long ago been stripped of its treasures; people now walk past it without a glance, whereas originally it would have stood out in the Welsh coastal countryside.

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16 June: Traherne XLVI, God our enjoyment.

Newly hatched damselfly.

You can be awestruck by seeing the galaxies, infinite space. You can be awestruck, infinitely delighted, by a newly hatched damselfly. This one I only saw because I was on my knees, preparing to pull up stinging nettles to protect my workmates; how much do we miss day by day?

The Office begins with words from Psalm 51: Lord open my lips, and my mouth shall declare thy praise, but we could equally pray that all our senses be opened to perceive and declare the infinite love of God

From Thomas Traherne, Centuries of Meditations.

The Infinity of God is our enjoyment, 
because it is the region and extent of His dominion. 
Barely as it comprehends infinite space, it is infinitely delightful; 
because it is the room and the place of our treasures, 
the repository of joys, 
and the dwelling place, 
yea the seat and throne, and Kingdom of our souls.

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14 June: and yet …

Aberdaron Beach, below the church where RS Thomas was parish priest.

Yesterday, it seemed to me, the Anglican priest Thomas Traherne made the consolations of the spiritual life seem so readily available. Today, it seems as though those consolations can be very distant, beyond my grasp. My go-to bard for such moments of faithful doubt is another Anglican priest, the Welsh poet, RS Thomas. You could open his Collected Poems* almost at random and find the wrangled wisdom of a faithful doubter, a committed questioner. Faith, as to be fair Traherne said the other day, demands effort. Here is an extract from RS’s poem Inside.

... Inside me, 
stalactite and stalagmite,
ideas have formed and become
rigid. To the crowd 
I am all outside.
To the pot-holing few there is a way
in along passages that become
narrower and narrower,
that lead to the chamber
too low to stand up in,
where the breath condenses
to the cold and locationless
cloud we call truth. It 
is where I think.

Ideas have formed and become rigid: it’s the rigidity that stifles us. And then when RS Thomas reaches the chamber at the centre of his being he is forced to his knees. This is the ‘cloud we call truth’, and there will be times when we are given a glimpse of the light that lies beyond, sometimes through thought and meditation, sometimes as pure, unexpected, inexplicable gift.

The children building sand castles in the rain at Aberdaron were enjoying the moment together, despite the cold cloud raining over them. Let’s pray for the grace to live in the moment and to live in hope and truth.

*R.S. Thomas, Collected Poems, 1945-1990, London, Phoenix.

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12 June: Traherne XLIII: The Soul’s Treasures.

From L’Arche Ipswich.
Till we know the universal beauty of God’s Kingdom, 
and that all objects in the omnipresence are the treasures of the soul, 
to enquire into the sufficiency and extent of its powers is impertinent. 
But when we know this, 
nothing is more expedient than to consider whether a soul be able to enjoy them. 
Which if it be, its powers must extend as far as its objects. 
For no object without the sphere of its power, 
can be enjoyed by it. 
It cannot be so much as perceived, much less enjoyed. 

'All objects in the omnipresence are the treasures of the soul': that is a policy statement for Christian life on earth. Omnipresence is God's presence; Traherne once again comes close to Saint Francis here. I read him this way: nothing outside the range of the soul can be enjoyed by the soul, indeed if  it is outside the range of the soul, then the soul will be unaware of it. 

But if we reflect, or meditate, as Traherne encouraged us yesterday, we will become aware of more and more connections in creation, and aware that our part in Creation is both infinitesimal and infinite, insignificant and important, passing and eternal.

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11 June: Traherne XLII: Acquainted with celestial things.

To be acquainted with celestial things 
is not only to know them, 
but by frequent meditation to be familiar with them. 
The effects of which are admirable. 
For by this those things that at first seemed uncertain become evident, 
those things which seemed remote become near, 
those things which appeared like shady clouds become solid realities: 
finally, those things which seemed impertinent to us and of little concernment, 
appear to be our own, according to the strictest rules of propriety 
and of infinite moment.

I felt like adding, ‘Come Holy Spirit’, to this meditation by Thomas Traherne. He seems to be writing about the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. These are given to us at Baptism and Confirmation, and reinforced by frequent meditation – or as we at Agnellus’ Mirror would say, frequent reflection.

‘Impertinent’ here seems not to mean ‘cheeky’ but ‘irrelevant’; ‘little concernment’ is more like ‘nothing to do with me’. But the things and people that seem that way are connected to us; they are our brothers and sisters as Saint Francis would remind us. And of infinite moment – ‘moment’ meaning both ‘momentum’ and ‘importance’.

All is gift.

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29 August: On the seventh day.

Today we share a passage from Saint Augustine of Hippo’s City of God, 11.8. It is Saint Augustine’s feast day, and it is holiday time, so when better to ask,

What we are to understand of God’s resting on the seventh day, after the six days’ work?

Augustine’s answer to this question may surprise us, coming from a man of the 4th and 5th Centuries. God does not need to rest from toil, as we humans do, for he created all things by his Word – he spake and it was done. So God’s rest is the rest he created for us – and other parts of his creation – and it is part of his plan of creation, even before the Fall. As Augustine says in The Confessions:

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

When it is said that God rested on the seventh day from all His works, and hallowed it, we are not to conceive of it in a childish fashion, as if work were a toil to God, who “spake and it was done,”—spake by the spiritual and eternal, not audible and transitory word. But God’s rest signifies the rest of those who rest in God, as the joy of a house means the joy of those in the house who rejoice, though not the house, but something else, causes the joy.

How much more intelligible is such phraseology, then, if the house itself, by its own beauty, makes the inhabitants joyful! For in this case we not only call it joyful by that figure of speech in which the thing containing is used for the thing contained (as when we say, “The theatres applaud,” “The meadows low,” meaning that the men in the one applaud, and the oxen in the other low), but also by that figure in which the cause is spoken of as if it were the effect, as when a letter is said to be joyful, because it makes its readers so. Most appropriately, therefore, the sacred narrative states that God rested, meaning thereby that those rest who are in Him, and whom He makes to rest.

And this the prophetic narrative promises also to the men to whom it speaks, and for whom it was written, that they themselves, after those good works which God does in and by them, if they have managed by faith to get near to God in this life, shall enjoy in Him eternal rest. This was prefigured to the ancient people of God by the rest enjoined in their sabbath law.

But rest is not idleness: it comes after ‘those good works which God does in and by them’. As we read recently, Thomas Traherne reminds us that, ‘The soul is made for action, and cannot rest till it be employed.’

Let’s pray for the grace to get on with our task in life, and to observe a Sabbath for our soul’s sake, however and whenever circumstances allow.

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5 August: Traherne XLIV, a life within eternity

It ought to be a firm principle rooted in us, 
that this life is the most precious season in all Eternity, 
because all Eternity dependeth on it. 

Now we may do those actions
which hereafter we shall never have occasion to do. 
And now we are to do them in another manner, 
which in its place is the most acceptable in all worlds: 
namely, by faith and hope,
in which God infinitely delighteth, 
with difficulty and danger, 
which God infinitely commiserates, and greatly esteems. 

So piecing this life with the life of Heaven, 
and seeing it as one with all Eternity, 
a part of it, 
a life within it: 
Strangely and stupendously blessed 
in its place and season.

‘This life is the most precious season in all Eternity, because all Eternity dependeth on it.’ I still find myself shaking my head at the piercing simplicity of this idea.

Lord, help me to see this life as a part of eternity,
strangely and stupendously blessed
in its place and season.

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4 August: Traherne XLIII: I will delight.

Knowing myself beloved 
and so glorified of God Almighty in another world, 
I ought to honour Him in this always, and to aspire to it.  

At midnight will I rise to give thanks unto Thee 
because of Thy righteous judgements. 
Seven times a day will I praise Thee, 
for Thy glorious mercy. 
Early in the morning will I bless Thee, 
I will triumph in Thy works, 
I will delight in Thy law day and night; 
at evening will I praise Thee. 

I will ever be speaking of Thy marvellous acts, 
I will tell of Thy greatness, 
and talk of the glorious majesty of Thy excellent Kingdom; 
these things ought ever to breathe in our souls.

“Knowing myself beloved” – how many of us would dare to start writing with such a bold statement? Knowing implies more than just holding an opinion, or feeling optimistic of getting to heaven to be glorified in that other world. It’s a knowledge that transcends how Traherne feels. He may be tired, hurt or ill, but he will praise God regardless of how he himself feels today. He may feel quite different tomorrow but that does not alter God’s greatness, nor his glory, nor his kindness to humans.

Traherne used the Psalms in composing this reflection. They form the basis of the Church’s seven prayers a day, which can be found free on-line at universalis.com for anyone wishing to pray them.

(Apologies that this reflection has fallen out of sequence. Sometimes a more topical piece turns up and things get moved around.)

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15 July: An energetic life.

A kneeler at Aberdaron church, Wales, where the poet RS Thomas was parish priest.

In another age, in another life, Thomas Traherne might have made a monk. In another age, in another life, another Thomas found his vocation as a Cistercian monk and writer. That’s how it was beginning to look in 1947 when Merton wrote the following journal entry. The message of the kneeler above contrasts with Traherne’s message in the last two days, ‘The soul is made for action, and cannot rest till it be employed’; at least superficially. But Traherne was also counselling the practice of meditation which begins with stillness. How that is achieved depends on the individual to a great extent; the fact that I came to stillness when cutting the grass was not appreciated by all my superiors… Over to Merton, who had chosen, been called to, a life of silence but not necessarily one of stillness.

The Cistercian life is energetic. There are tides of vitality running through the whole community that generate energy even in people who are lazy… We go out to work like a college football team taking the field.

Trappists believe that everything that costs them is God’s will. Anything that makes you suffer is God’s will. If it makes you sweat, it is God’s will. But we have serious doubts about the things which demand no expense of physical energy. Are they really the will of God? Hardly! …

If we want something, we can easily persuade ourselves that what we want is God’s will just as long as it turns out to be difficult to obtain.

Reading the two Thomases together, I wonder that any of us ever find any stillness in modern life. I no longer have access to a big, noisy, green, ride-on mower. But I do have the garden to turn to: news from there tomorrow.

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13 July: Traherne XLV, Visited with heavenly influences.

Having once studied these principles you are eternally to practise them. 
You are to warm yourselves at these fires, 
and to have recourse to them every day. 
When you think not of these things you are in the dark. 
And if you would walk in the light of them, 
you must frequently meditate. 

These principles are like seed in the ground, 
they must continually be visited with heavenly influences, 
or else your life will be a barren field.

The principles Traherne was putting before us (see post of 6 July) are: ‘This life is the most precious season in all Eternity, because all Eternity dependeth on it.’ I repeat the prayer from that post.

Lord, help me to see this life as a part of eternity,
strangely and stupendously blessed
in its place and season.

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