Wednesday, August 12, 2015

‘How does she do it?’

Have you ever thought that about someone? Perhaps they are running a marathon while accepting a promotion and organising a charity event all at the same time. Perhaps you’re convinced they have one of those devices which Hermione had in Harry Potter. It seems they simply have more hours in the day, or just more energy in their tank.

This is the overall impression I was left with after reading Pilgrim & Poet chapters 5-8. Anne Bradstreet – How does she do it?

Imagine yourself - a pilgrim in the New World. No electricity. No running water. Imagine moving house with a toddler, whilst heavily pregnant – when moving house means a two day journey to a ‘house’ which then has to be built by hand, log by log. Imagine then raising 8 children often on your own – your husband is frequently away for weeks on end on colony business. You’re partially lame because of an earlier illness. You’re scared a tree is going to fall on your house. You’re scared (rightly or wrongly) that you’ll get killed by Amerindians. You have to farm your own food, make your own bread, repair your own house, keep yourself sane. Meanwhile you decide to write thousands and thousands of lines of rhyming couplets describing the current political situation, and dabbling in classical philosophy and ancient history…. How does she do it?!

Thankfully our author doesn’t fall into complete hagiography here. Anne does have weaknesses. The solitude eats away at her. At times she’s swamped by anxious thoughts, self-pity and resentment. She doubts God, pleads with her husband to come home and runs her tear ducts dry. And the beautiful thing is we know this because she wrote about it. Cook includes numerous excerpts of Anne’s poetry and prose. I’m frequently struck by how often her personal poems feel like psalms. Not because they mention Zion or lyres or anything like that. But because they have that thematic rhythm, the rhythm that echoes the plod of the Christian life – that rhythm that starts with the hardships, but ends with turning to God in trust and praise.

You can picture Anne lying alone in bed at night, hearing the creaks of her log-house, eyes wide with fears and doubts and slowly letting the Lordship of Christ umpire her heart and calm her anxieties:

By night when others soundly slept
And had at once both ease and rest,
My waking eyes were open kept,
And so to lie I found it best.

I sought him whom my soul did love,
With tears I sought him earnestly;
He bowed his ear down from above;
In vain I did not seek or cry.

My hungry soul he filled with good,
He in his bottle put my tears,
My smarting wounds washed in his blood
And banished thence my doubt and fears.

What to my Saviour shall I give,
Who freely hath done this for me?
I’ll serve him here whilst I shall live
And love him to eternity.

So whether you’re someone who ‘does it all’ or doesn’t, who ‘has it all’ or hasn’t, may we do or not do, have or not have, all to the glory of God. I’m so thankful that whether I’m a somewhat-super-woman on the frontier or a run-of-the-mill suburbanite, God in his grace gives us the same fuel to keep running– the never-let-go love and never-fail forgiveness of Christ.

P.S. On a totally different note - if you’re interested in hearing a bit more about Anne Hutchison (who we mentioned in the first post), Kevin Vanhoozer mentioned her in his opening Moore College Lecture, given just last week. Gives another reason to listen if you’re keen. Vanhoozer has some great reflections on how the whole controversy exemplifies the tension the Massachusetts puritans felt between the authority of scripture and the priesthood of all believers. 

About this month's contributor, Annabel Nixey
I'm a Sydney-bred, Canberra-newbie who's still getting used to the idea of four distinct seasons (yes, in winter it is chilly!). My favourite genres are… for movies - period dramas, for books - biographies and for coffee - tea. American history was my least favourite subject at uni but this month's book (set amongst the puritan pilgrims to the new world) has helped flip that impression.

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