Friday, April 16, 2010

The Child in Dickens

'No, I hold myself in quiet and silence, like a baby in its mother's arms, like a baby, so I keep myself.' - Psalms 131:2

St. Aurelius Augustine once said that when he himself, as a baby, beat his mother's breast while nursing, it was really the showing of the secret desire rankling in his heart to murder his mother. He believed that a child's sin was determined before he ever acted sinfully, and would go to everlasting damnation if he died before his infant baptism.

The idea, termed original or ancestral sin, was not taken seriously until the Enlightenment, when Martin Luther and John Calvin took the words of St. Augustine to be theological truths. "Original sin," Calvin said, "therefore appears to be a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused through all the parts of the soul, rendering us obnoxious to the divine wrath and producing in us those works which the scripture calls works of sin.' God, therefore, was deemed a terrible deity who would damn innocent children for sins which they had not committed.

This belief developed. Sinfulness was said to be present even after baptism. We were deemed to be sinning all the time, even when we were not conscious of it, and therefore had an excuse to never combat our sin. As Martin Luther said, "Be a sinner and sin on bravely, but have stronger faith and rejoice in Christ, who is the victor of sin, death, and the world. Do not for a moment imagine that this life is the abiding place of justice: sin must be committed. To you it ought to be sufficient that you acknowledge the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world, the sin cannot tear you away from him, even though you commit adultery a hundred times a day and commit as many murders.'

Never mind the words of Jesus: 'Go and sin no more.' 'Be ye perfect, even as thy heavenly father is perfect.' 'Whoever holds to my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home in him.' Of Paul: 'Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.' Of John: 'We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commandments.' Or the fact that, if sin-guilt was inherent in all Life and not just in action, that Jesus Himself could not have been sinless, as He chose to enter the world through a woman's womb.

To the detriment of all this, the beliefs of Calvin and Luther and Augustine were widely accepted in the Protestant and Catholic church, and continue to be today. This belief in the evil propensities of a child was accentuated by the Enlightenment's divorcing of the spiritual and material aspects of life, of Darwin's treatise on the animalism of man, and the amalgamation of both of these in the Industrial Era, which treated the child as sinful animals without character, emotion, or goodness.

In fact, in the world of the early 1800s, children were not even viewed as human beings until the age of seven. Sanitation was so primitive that it was extremely rare for a child to live to seven-years-old, and therefore they would not be intellectually counted as mind-full until they were proved to live through their infancy. They were deemed as being the essence of sinfulness, thus disregarding Jesus' declaration to 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.' In the original Greek, the last part of the sentence literally reads 'the kingdom of God is this [the little child].'

However, there were some people who struck out against the Enlightenment's painting of children. They were a part of the Christian Romantics, who adhered to the belief that the spiritual was inherent in matter, and that whoever welcomed a Child welcomed Jesus and therefore welcomed Elohim. Thus William Wordsworth declared, "Thou little Child, yet glorious in the might Of heaven-born freedom on thy being's height." And William Blake expostulated, "When the voices of children are heard on the green And laughing is heard on the hill, My heart is at rest within my breast And everything else is still.'

The aggression against the Calvin-Luther-Augustine theology was continued with great force by the Victorian author, Charles Dickens. It was he that paved the way for the Victorian's return to the love of the child, the sacredness of the mother, the unit of the father-mother-child, when 'the Child is Father of the Man', as Wordsworth termed it. In his books he wrote about little children who possessed thoughts, feelings, goodness, and the longing for love and acceptance. Pip, Biddy, David Copperfield, Amy Dorrit, Little Nell, Sissy Jupe, Esther Woodhouse…the list goes on. He shows how the innocence of these children may be tainted by the sinfulness of their parents (Hard Times), through the cruelty of schoolmasters (David Copperfield), by the brutality of women (Great Expectations, Bleak House), or the negligence of fathers (Little Dorrit, Old Curiosity Shop). But he did not just make an example through negatives. He showed the true joy that might come when the family is as it should be. When the family models the Holy Family: the father as protector and provider, the mother as comforter and caretaker, the child as the holy fruit of their love.

This is seen in no greater book than in A Christmas Carol, where Scrooge––the epitome of the anti-emotion movement started in the Enlightenment and followed through in Industrialization––comes to realize the sacredness of Love and therefore the fruit of Love, the Child, through the example of the beautiful, lovely family of Tiny Tim. As Dickens said, 'It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.'

And thus Dickens ushered in the true enlightenment of the Victorian era.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Fairest Lord Jesus

Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nature,

O thou of God and man the Son,

Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor

Thou, my soul's glory, joy, and crown.

Dusk spread its silky fingers over the horizon as we drove through Clover Meade. It had been a long day: sitting in a car, reading Jane Austen, and listening to Bach fugues over the speakers as we drove up the continent to our homeland. The day was glorious. A blue sky and a golden sun graced our eyes with their beauty as a cheerful, fresh wind breathed Spring into our lungs.

It seems fitting that the Savior, who is Life, should have been resurrected in a time that such Resurrection takes place. The new birth of all around us thrilled through our veins, though we were only passive observers of the growth. Perhaps the best way to come into fellowship with that same renewal is through the spiritual camaraderie of our own Soul's newness in Jeshua.

The beauty of the season and the soul pervading the season filled my heart, and, when the car finally came to a stop in front of my home, I lost little time in running up to my bedroom, replacing my travel-weary clothes for a fresh eyelet skirt and sky-blue shirt, and, my feet bare-shod, I tripped down the back staircase and out into the loveliness of the evening.

Fair are the meadows, fairer still the woodlands,

Robed in the blooming garb of spring:

Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer

Who makes the woeful heart to sing.

The Chinook had been busy while I was absent. It had sprinkled away the plum blossoms on the Tree of Life and the pear blossoms on Lady Cordelia––as I had christened them in a blissfully Emily of New Moon phase––and onto the lush green clover, intertwining pure white petals with the lavender violets and yellow sunflowers that carpeted the damp, warm earth. Old William and Lady Dawn, the apple trees, seemed a bit belated in the growth of their canopy of green leaves, but close inspection boasted little buds just breaking forth from their wooden cocoon. Squirrels scurried through the tree branches, watching with eager eyes for the fruit that was soon to appear to make their supper. Red-breasted robins chirped their cheerful chorus from their newly built nests, while brilliant bluejays hopped along the grass, looking for the earthworms that were just burrowing up to the warm sunlight from their winter haven in the depths of the ground.

I walked down the hill, inhaling the sweetly-scented breeze as it blew all worldly cares from my eyes and mind, and sang Fairest Lord Jesus as I surveyed the beauty of His creation. I marveled at the knowledge that Jesus is, truly, fairer and purer than the wonder-full fairness of purity I saw all around me.

Fair is the sunshine, fairer still the moonlight,

And all the twinkling starry host:

Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer

Than all the angels heaven can boast.

I directed my steps to the peach tree sapling, which, just planted last year, and rather neglected by its stewards, is struggling to obey God's commandment to bear fruit. It looked beautiful in the setting sun, just sprouting its first emerald leaves and pink flowers, from her slender ivory branches. I prayed that God might make her bear good fruit, and, after a little thought over what name would encapsulate her beauty, called the tree Cherith, in the old tradition of Adam.

The sun dipped below the hills as the moon grew clearer in the periwinkle heavens. I lay on the grass for a few minutes, letting the warmth of Spring seep into my bones. After praying to the Lord of the dance of creation, I made my way back up the sloping lawn and into the house, praising the Rose of Sharon for the Beauty birthed of His Holiness (Psalm 29:2 KJV)

Beautiful Savior! Lord of all the nations!

Son of God and Son of Man!

Glory and honor, praise, adoration,

Now and forevermore be thine.

Hymn by Munster Gesangbuch