This Puritan Poet

12 Sep

I went to the library during the last week of August and picked up a book about dog care (since I’m pretty much starting from square one there). While I was there, I perused through the books near the front that had been selected by the library as part of a certain theme for the month.

One of those books was Mistress Bradstreet: The Untold Life of America’s First Poet. I’ve also been quasi-interested in poetry and I love biographies. Since we were heading to Minnesota on vacation, I picked it up for what I call “fun reading” (books that don’t make you think too much). 

It is a great book. While I admit that I not only find the typical history lessons boring, I can’t remember them to save my life, this kind of history is just fascinating to me. I love hearing about what life was like back in “the old days,” regardless of the age. I love hearing about people’s lives in times ranging from Biblical times, to the 1600s (during which time Anne Bradstreet lived), all the way to the 1950s. It’s not that I don’t like history; I can’t get into historical political happenings but I can get into people’s lives.

Anne Bradstreet (author of famous lines such as “If ever two were one, then surely we. / If ever man were loved by wife, then thee; / If ever wife was happy in a man, / Compare with me ye women if you can.”) was born in England in 1612. Raised in a Puritan household, she was taught to be submissive to men and her parents, to never speak her mind or ask questions, and to aspire to be a godly Puritan mother, the greatest achievement for a woman.

Whereas Anne could hold no radical ideals, her father and husband did. It was these radical ideals (the idea of creating a new Puritan nation, free from the sin and evil that characterized their native England during that time) that prompted their uprooting to start a new life in America, a land that at that time was still very undeveloped and uncivilized. They would have to endure cold winters, hard labor, near starvation, unknown diseases, and attacks from new enemies once they reached land–if they even survived the journey there.

The strength of Anne in the face of moving against her will and literally starting a whole new life in a new, undeveloped country is undoubtedly representative of the majority of Puritan women. Their faith in God, though somewhat radical at times, was unshakeable and penetrated every single aspect of their lives. Everything had spiritual significance and everything was viewed in relation to God. They prayed constantly, about everything from the most practical matters to the most spiritual ones. Because for them, there was no such distinct. If your milk curdled surprisingly early, it must have been God’s way of showing His displeasure. Everything revealed the state of one’s soul.

I admire their constant prayer and commitment to their faith. I admire their work ethic and bravery. I also admire Anne’s courage to venture out as a women writer, especially as a poet. The author of this book, Charlotte Gordon, makes the point repeatedly that Anne was being very audacious in her ventures as a female poet. It had never been attempted by a woman, as the realm of poetry was strickly the territory of men. But Anne, through her own family’s wealth and other fortunate opportunities she had during her childhood, was not only extremely bright, she had also received an education, something very rare for a woman in that day.

Besides it being obvious that I find all this information captivating, it has had implications for my own walk with the Lord. I see my old paltry prayer life in contrast with Anne’s and am chastized for not striving to deepen my relationship with Lord through that avenue. I see her dedication to research, writing, and studying the Scriptures on top of her immense, never-ending list of duties and wonder why I can’t find the time to dedicate even 30 minutes some days to my own studies? I see her life-encompassing view of God and am saddened by how much of my life I live in ignorance of Him and His ways.

But then I read about her doubts, her weaknesses (perceived by none other than herself), her worries and fears and unwomanly emotions (though she had the self-control to channel them exclusively through her poetry, instead of the outbursts I am prone to). And I see that often times, how people see us externally doesn’t often match how we see ourselves internally. It is easy to portray having it all together on the outside when everything is in shambles on the inside. For all the Puritans strivings toward purity, they were still sinful humans when they left this earth, just like all of us. What great assurance it is that we are all human, all in the same boat of needing a Savior! I often get down on myself because I feel like I’m not doing as much as “others,” like they’re making use of their lives and I’m wasting mine.

What really matters is our relationship with God, not how we manage our time or what we achieve. I finally finished my study of Romans today (only took me 8 1/2 months!) and Paul reminded the Romans at the very end that God is one with the ability to strengthen us for the obedience of faith; we are not. We are utterly and totally dependent on God for our lives of faith; there is nothing therein that we can or have accomplished ourselves.

This comes as an immense relief to me, for I often struggle with doubt, uncertainty, angry outbursts, indifference, laziness, and guilt. It is great knowledge that I can run to God in those moments of struggle and rely on Him to restore to me what I am lacking, so that I am able to glorify Him through all aspects of my life, even when it feels that I am a horribly lost cause.

Paul also reminded the Romans that this strengthening for obedience happens through the gospel, through the knowledge of what Christ has done for us on the cross and what our relationship with God now is as a result. Time and time again, God will lead us back to the gospel as the truth by which we live. Without the gospel, there is no hope. Without Christ, there is no life. Without God’s love, there is no meaning.

Whatever question may be circling through your mind, even if the answer seems very far off and totally indiscernable, the solution is always Christ and the truths within the gospel. God brings you through the bogs of confusion so that you may reach the open meadow of understanding.

One Response to “This Puritan Poet”

  1. Carrie September 12, 2009 at 6:51 pm #

    Awesome post Kathy… I can identify with you in so many ways, so I also really benefit from what the Lord is teaching you. Thanks for the gentle yet convicting reminder that no matter what is going on (or not going on), the truth of Christ and the gospel are always what we need for strength, understanding, peace, love, etc. Amen sister! 🙂

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