For something written about 363 years ago, you get what she means…
Those days/weeks/months/years when the darkness will not lift…when it all feels too hard… and then it gets harder. Maybe it’s the relationship that is difficult, the newborn who will not sleep, the illness that will not pass or just the grey dragging weight of one frustration after another. Whatever it is, we’ve all had moments when we ask God: uphold my drooping heart (P&P p 116).
Chapters 9-12 of Pilgrim & Poet recount in some sense the ‘high point’ of Anne Bradstreet’s life – her work is published in England (unbeknownst to her!) and she becomes the first published poet of America. But this peculiar triumph (which she finds initially confronting and embarrassing) is then overshadowed by a difficult time of illness and isolation between 1648-57. During these years she is at home without her husband for long periods (again!) now looking after their 8 children. She also loses her father and faces frequent illnesses and infections.
She cries out to God:
Worthy art thou, O Lord, of praise,
but ah! It’s not in me!
My sinking heart I pray thee raise,
so shall I give it thee.
Sometimes we don’t have the wherewithal to praise. All we can do is ask God to plant his foreign-feeling words in our hearts.
Anne’s perseverance seems to be rooted in a habit of re-plastering God’s faithfulness across her mind’s eye and reaffirming her own identity as a pilgrim, passing through, in the course of this life. Cook suggests this pilgrim idea is repeated motif in Anne’s work (hence the tile – Pilgrim & Poet). Perhaps the words she wrote about her father, could also be applied to Anne:
Upon the earth he did not build his nest,
But as a pilgrim what he had, possessed.
High thoughts he gave no harbour in his heart,
Nor honours puffed him up when he had part;
Those titles loathed which some too much do love,
For truly his ambition lay above.
Perhaps it is easier to hold things loosely here (even things like comfort & ease) when our heart’s grip is preoccupied with things above (c/f Matthew 6). Anne seems to have a striking sense that whatever her circumstances, they are for her good: ‘for God does not afflict willingly, nor take delight in grieving the children of men: he has no benefit in my adversity nor is he the better for my prosperity, but he does it for my advantage, and that I may be the gainer by it. And if he knows that weakness and a frail body is the best to make me a vessel fit for his use, why should I not bear it not only willingly but joyfully?’
Wouldn’t you love to have that perspective all the time! It appears Anne could only get it by looking to God’s faithfulness, both at the time, and in retrospect:
My winter’s past, my storms are gone,
and former clouds seem now all fled,
but if they must eclipse again,
I’ll run where I was succourèd*
I have a shelter from the storm
a shadow from the fainting heat,
I have access unto his throne,
who is a God so wondrous great.
So here’s a call to all those feeling the batterings of life at the moment– praying that God’s throne would be a refuge to you in the storms and searing heat, just as it was to America’s first published poet.
* For those (like me!) who had no idea what ‘succourèd’ meant:
succour (ˈsʌkə) or succor
1. help or assistance, esp in time of difficulty
2. a person or thing that provides help
3. (tr) to give aid to
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.