One of my early experiences of being overwhelmed by a sense of God’s presence was discovering that I was not the first person in the world to be haunted by a sense of God’s nearness. As both the planet and the sun in the midst of my own gravitational rotation, I honestly had a sense that “nobody else in the whole world” could fathom the new depths I was finding in God; a sure sign of being an amateur. Reading TS Eliot’s, The Wasteland, for the first time as an act of personal desire and curiosity, rather than an anthology assignment for class, opened up huge and wide channels of words and images about the nature of the incarnate God that I sometimes intuited but never fully embraced.
Eliot was like visiting another country; a place where you discover that someone is speaking fluently in a language for which you may have just mastered the alphabet. The Four Quartets, The Wasteland, Murder in the Cathedral . . . the voices rising from those pages helped my discover a language through which to begin articulating my own conversation with God.
It was a revelation to discover that Eliot once said, “The truly best ideas in writing are the ones that are stolen . . .” Of course he was speaking a bit tongue in check, but just a bit. Combing through the footnotes of The Wasteland, you will find that almost every line of the poem is cross referenced with some vignette from ancient religious and philosophical literature. I highly recommend it to you.
I was also surprised to find that Eliot confessed a love for, and dependence upon, the homilies and essays of The Right Reverend Lancelot Andrewes; Eliot, a writer and artist whom I admired, confessed his own inspiration and dependence upon the words and experience of an old English divine. It left me intrigued and curious. So I took up Andrewes and read his sermons and prayers, and again I was introduced to a new mountain range. Having grown used to the devotional literature of the twentieth century, and sermons that were more or less political statements or pep talks, the words of Andrewes were like a fire; it was the difference between warming myself before a campfire, and then finding myself caught in a forest fire.
Andrewes preached before commoners and kings; and he was preaching to an audience that knew and lived scripture in a way that we can hardly fathom. Andrewes was perhaps the chief overseer of the translation of the King James Version of the Bible. It was also a generation following the Reformation that lived within decades of burning people at the stake for how and why they read the scriptures, and how they lived according to what they discovered there. When I read Andrewes sermons I find that there is almost always a strong note of eternity in the background; we are all going to live forever, whether we want to, or not.
In one instance, TS Eliot compares to Andrewes to William Shakespeare, saying more or less, that Andrewes only superior in the English language was the great playwright. Below you will find Eliot’s thoughts about Andrewes influence and style – more can be found here:
Below you will also find a sermon preached by Andrewes on Easter Day, April 12, 1613.
Preached before King James, at Whitehall.
Blessings and Godspeed.
T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays (3rd edn., London, 1951)
His sermons are too well built to be readily quotable; they stick too closely to the point to be entertaining. Yet they rank with the finest English prose of their time, of any time.
No religion can survive the judgment of history unless the best minds of its time have collaborated in its construction; if the Church of Elizabeth is worthy of the age of Shakespeare and Jonson, that is because of the work of Hooker and Andrewes.
Reading Andrewes on such a theme is like listening to a great Hellenist expounding a text of the Posterior Analytics: altering the punctuation, inserting or removing a comma or a semi-colon to make an obscure passage suddenly luminous, dwelling on a single word, comparing its use in its nearer and in its most remote contexts, purifying a disturbed or cryptic lecture-note into lucid profundity.
The text below is taken from Andrewes Easter sermon:
Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology
Lancelot Andrewes Works, Sermons, Volume Two
SERMONS OF THE RESURRECTION
PREACHED UPON EASTER-DAY, 1613.
Preached before King James, at Whitehall, on Sunday the Twelfth of April, A. D. MDCXIII.
pp. 309 322
Transcribed by Dr. Marianne Dorman
Text Colossians 3:1-2
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
Igitur, si con-surrexistis cum Christo, quae sursum sunt quaerite, ubi Christus est in dextera Dei sedens. Quam sursum sunt sapite, non quae super terram.
. . . To withdraw ourselves, to sequester our minds from things here below, to think of Him, and of the place where now He is, and the things that will bring us thither.
It is a prerogative that a Christian hath, to make it Easter any day in the year, by doing these duties on it. They come no day amiss. But no day so fit as this day, the very day of His rising. Then of very congruity, we to rise also. For no reason in the world, if He rise, that we should lie still. Nor is it good for us that He should rise without us, and leave us behind in the grave of our sins still. But when He, then we too.
Rising is not so proper to the day, but the two signs or two duties, call them which ye will, are as proper. For this day was, indeed, a day of seeking. ‘I know whom you seek, you seek Jesus That was crucified, saith one Angel.’ ‘Why seek you the living among the dead? saith another.’ To rise when He rose, to seek Him when He was sought. This day He was sought by men, sought by women. Women, the three Maries; men the two Apostles. The women at charges, the Apostles at pains. Early by the one, earnestly by the other. So there was seeking of all hands.
And they who sought not went to Emmaus, yet they set their minds on Him, had Him in mind, were talking of Him by the way. So that these do very fitly come into the agendum of this day; thus to seek and set our minds. At least not to lose Him quite, that day we should seek Him, or have our minds farthest from Him that day they should be most upon Him.
The Church by her office, or agendum, doth her part to help us herein, all she may. The things we are willed to seek she sets before us, the blessed mysteries. For these are from above; the ‘Bread that came down from heaven,’ the Blood that hath been carried ‘into the holy place.’ [321/322] And I add ubi Christus for ubi Corpus, ubi sanguis Christi, ibi Christus, I am sure. And truly here, if there be an ubi Christus, there it is. On earth we are never so near Him, or He us, as then and there. There in efficaciâ, and when all is done, efficacy, that is it must do us good, must raise us here, and raise us at the last day to the right hand; and the local ubi without it of no value.
He was found in the ‘breaking of the bread:’ that bread she breaketh, that there we may find Him. He was found by them who had their minds on Him: to that end she will call to us, Sursum corda, ‘Lift up your hearts;’ which, when we hear, it is but this text iterated, ‘Set your minds,’ have your hearts where Christ is. We answer,’We lift them up;’ and so I trust we do, but I fear we let them fall too soon again.
Therefore, as before so after, when we hear, ‘Thou That sittest at the right hand of the Father;’ and when again ‘Glory to God on high,’ all is but to have this. But especially, where we may sentire and sapere quæ sursum, and gustare donum cæleste, ‘ taste of the heavenly gift,’ as in another place he speaketh; see in the breaking, and taste in the receiving, how gracious He was and is; was in suffering for us, is in rising again for us too, and regenerating us thereby to ‘a lively hope.’ And gracious in offering to us the means, by His mysteries and grace with them, as will raise us also and set our minds, where true rest and glory are to be seen.
That so at this last and great Easter of all, the Resurrection-day, what we now seek we may then find; where we now set our minds, our bodies may then be set; what we now but taste, we may then have the full fruition of, even of His glorious Godhead, in rest and glory, joy and bliss, never to have an end.