Thursday, December 09, 2010

Blake's God

    that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them
    and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one.
    (John 17)
The theologues of the forties and fifties learned from Paul Tillich that everyone has an ultimate concern, his God. People in Alcoholics Anonymous have told some of their theologically confused members that, lacking any better God, they may worship a 'pot on the mantle', anything at all to break that devotion to the bottle which is actually the worship of a lower form of the self. To remain sober one must believe in a Higher Power of some sort.

The important thing is that one's Higher Power be not a projection of some lower form of self; that's idolatry. The person seriously interested in ultimate reality engages in a life long search for the most real image he can discover, the image of his God. A person's best image of God nurtures his spirit as he goes through life.

The Bible contains a multiplicity of images of God. For example we read about the finger of God (verse 18), the nostrils of God (verse 8), even the backside of God (verse 23). All his life Blake maintained a high level of respect for the Bible as Vision. Nevertheless he refused to worship other men's visions of God:

"I (you!) must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's" (Jerusalem, 10.21; E153).

He's saying that we have a choice: to adhere to the conventions (whatever conventions may be for us) or to create our own values from our own experience. Blake did this for a lifetime, creating his own myth of meaning, and with his creative works he expressed it over and over again.

The only thing Blake really trusted was his own immediate direct vision, and he possessed his soul in varying degrees of patience until that vision clarified (and you may be sure that it was criticized, corrected and amended over and over again. The Felpham Moment marks the decisive clarification of Blake's vision of God. Even then the Father remained for Blake a symbol of subjection to the other man's vision, of spiritual tyranny. His own vision came to center upon Jesus:

"the Son O how unlike the Father First God Almighty comes with a Thump on the Head Then Jesus Christ comes with a balm to heal it" (Vision of the Last Judgment; Erdman 565)
Blake depreciated the God of Law
and Wrath in order to exalt the God of Forgiveness. He believed that the far off, elusive, mysterious, transcendental image of God freezes man into spiritual immobility. He wanted to liberate men's minds from this imposture and put them in touch with the true source of creativity:
    "Seek not thy heavenly father then beyond the skies,
    There Chaos dwells & ancient Night & Og & Anak old." (Milton 20:33-34)

    "I am not a God afar off, I am a brother and friend;
    Within your bosoms I reside, and you reside in me:
    Lo! we are One, forgiving all Evil, Not seeking recompense.
    Ye are my members...."
    (Jerusalem 4:18-21)

The prophetic poems which Blake wrote prior to 1800 concern his efforts to know, describe and deal with the old, jealous, wrathful, creator image; he finally dismissed it as a "shadow from his wearied intellect" (FZ3-40.3). The later, major prophecies, Milton and Jerusalem, also contain this theme, happily outweighed by the new vision.

Prior to the Felpham Moment Blake had worshipped his own visionary endowment, his Pot on the Mantle; he called it the Poetic Genius and later the Imagination.

The evolving figure of Los building Golgonooza (line 39) personified what we might call a pre-Christian God. When grace fell upon Blake, he came to see the true embodiment of God in Jesus.(See Letter.)

Following John and Paul quite literally Blake believed that all things belong to Jesus. He is in them (us) and they (we) are in him. All his life Blake had kept a firm grip on the oneness of humanity and its identity with God. At the Moment of Grace he came to see all as One Man and his own forgiven and accepted place in that Man's bosom. In the poem the Man refers to the All as "My Fold" and names the awakened Blake as his herald: "Thou Ram horn'd with gold".

Blake sent this poem to the one faithful Christian he knew who had befriended and loved him. The circumstances leave no doubt as to the identity of the One Man. The poem poetically expresses Blake's faith as it relates to God, Man and the relationship between the two. It expresses what the Christian faith has to say about the relationship as well as it can be expressed verbally. It also expresses with vivid eloquence the child like nature of the entrance to the kingdom of God. Blake here celebrates and confesses it.

To interpret Blake's experience we could use any number of hackneyed phrases representing the various dialects of the language of Zion; suffice it to say that for most of them as for Blake this is the main event, the center of the Moment of Grace. At this point Jesus became and forever afterward remained the One and the ever present Reality which Blake had formerly known as the Infinite or Eternal. For Blake Jesus was a Man, the Reality of Life, and most ultimately the All. In all three instances Blake strictly followed Johannine and Pauline strains of the New Testament.

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