This post was inspired by encouragement from my friend Meredith who wrote: "I am eager to hear Larry speak more about Blake." Like most of my blogs they are more about me, and Blake's statement "I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's," aptly described my life and became my credo. Reading those words did it for me! It's practically the story of my life.
Jerusalem, Plate 18, (E 152)
"I must Create a System, or be enslav'd by another Mans
I will not Reason & Compare: my business is to Create"
Raised in a parsonage, wedded to the church (with the usual adolescent rebellion included), I set out to serve mankind, via the Methodist parish ministry for eight years, and thereafter with a much larger mission, including ten years rehabilitating alcoholics (with the bishop's blessing). The sap was rising.
"But your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more.
They're already overcrowded
From your dirty little war.
Now Jesus don't like killin'
No matter what the reason's for,
And your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more."
This little chorus by John Prine was dinned in my ears for months by my adolescent sons (ca 1972). It was a cute thought, but it meant little to me at the time. But God has a strange way of bringing little things like that together over a period of time for long range consequences.
Illustrations to Young's Night Thoughts
Eight years after leaving North Carolina and moving to Washington DC, with an uncreative job I had to do (for groceries), I came across Northrup Frye's Fearful Symmetry. I read it five times and was hooked. Over the next five years I wrote my Blake book (A Blake Primer) while employed at a menial job at EPA in Washington DC.
Meanwhile Ellie and I were committed to a nationally famous small church in D.C. After serving it for ten years it was beginning to lose its charm for us (too much structure, too much discipline, too much being told what to believe).
We tried UU (they had too lavish a worship service). The next Sunday we walked into Langley Hill Friends Meeting: oh joy, no 'authority', just seek God in your own way, at your own pace.
Looking back now (23 years later), and with Meredith's inducement to reflect on Blake it came to me how he had influenced our lives and our faith. Every other 'system' had fallen short; we must create our own. (Quakers believe the Light Within is what drives your life.) Blake spent his whole life looking at the light within-- and reporting to us what he had found.
Other men have been driven exclusively by that light within, Nietzsche, for example and Van Gogh, but they both went crazy. Blake of course was considered crazy by many or most people. The difference is while they got lost in their visions he came back from his, to sober rationality.
Blake and the Quakers set us free from the emotional ties of conventional theology and organized religion; they were all "another man's system". He proved that you could be set free from other men's systems and keep your sanity. Of course he and Catherine were as poor as church mice, materially!, but spiritually he was a prince.
He was 42 when he "met the Lord" (to use a hackneyed term). He spent many years excoriating the God of this world, Old Nobodaddy, as he called God (and he had a few other names for him, too). But all that negativity, like Isaiah's, had a happy outcome.
Songs & Ballads, Notebook, (E 471)
" To Nobodaddy
Why art thou silent & invisible Father of jealousy
Why dost thou hide thyself in clouds From every searching Eye
Why darkness & obscurity In all thy words & laws
That none dare eat the fruit but from The wily serpents jaws
Or is it because Secresy gains females loud applause"
Early in his career he coined two important terms: innocence and experience. They represent two phases or stages of life, or perhaps two roads to take; some choose innocence; he chose experience. He described the first choice with Thel; his life is the second choice, a long and torturous road; but both end at the same place.
THE GHOST of ABEL, A Revelation In the Visions of Jehovah, (E 272)
"The Elohim of the Heathen Swore Vengeance for Sin! Then Thou, stoodst
Forth O Elohim Jehovah! in the midst of the darkness of the Oath! All Clothed
In Thy Covenant of the Forgiveness of Sins: Death O Holy! Is this Brotherhood
The Elohim saw their Oath Eternal Fire; they rolled apart trembling over The
Mercy Seat: each in his station fixt in the Firmament by Peace Brotherhood and Love."
From his acquaintance with Jesus he referred to him as 'The forgiveness', and he considered forgiveness to be the greatest (and even the only) tenet of life (completely in accord with the Lord's Great Commandment). For me that substantially leaves all other theologies in the dust.
Further it completely discounts the support of war, of which practically all established churches through the years have been guilty. They are hard to forgive for that, and in polite society there is a strong taboo against mentioning it.
 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:
 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
 Give us this day our daily bread.
 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.