When I'm stressed, the repeating line comes from e.e. cummings, "and staggered banged with terror through/a million billion trillion stars." Don't we all feel that way, at least some of the time? I've staggered my whole life, even more so now pregnant.
Recently, I remembered the words to the John Donne poem I studied in high school. "Batter my heart, three-personed God." I couldn't remember the rest of the poem, but remembered relating to it strongly when I was 17. (I was a weird 17 year old. I don't think many of my students relate on a personal level to John Donne.)
Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend; That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new. I, like an usurped town, to another due, Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end. Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend, But is captived, and proves weak or untrue. Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain, But am betrothed unto your enemy: Divorce me, untie or break that knot again, Take me to you, imprison me, for I, Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
Did you skim that? It is okay, you probably already graduated from high school. Essentially, the poem's speaker asks God to batter his heart, because his usual tactics to "knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend" are not enough to save his sinful soul. Instead, he needs God to "break, blow, burn, and make me new." Married to God's enemy (Satan,) the speaker asks God to "Imprison me...enthrall me....ravish me" in order to gain spiritual freedom.
Why did I like this poem? A poem about God raping (ravishing) a soul married to Satan in order to purify it sounds fundamentalist at best. But after re-reading the poem, I remembered the line that interested me as a senior: "Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend/ But is captived, and proves weak or untrue."
The idea that God gave us reason to defend us, but said reason is captive and weak in the mind of man made sense to my often unreasonable teenage self. I felt comforted by the fact that while I may sometimes misuse it, God had indeed given me reason.
Growing up, I was desperate to be Good, more specifically, I was desperate to be a Good Mormon. I felt often like my God-given reason had betrayed me, when I struggled to understand Church practices and doctrine that seemed to defy reason, and frankly didn't make sense. (Wait, I'm really more righteous than my 7 year old brother? And that is why he will someday have the priesthood?)
So I loved John Donne's plea to his three-personed God to batter his heart. The brute force of God would still be kinder than the mental beatings I gave myself every time I flippantly refused to accept that God sees homosexuality as a sin, or dared to believe a woman could choose to stay at home or work outside it and still be a good mother. If God could somehow break and bend my cognitive dissonance into a temple recommend, into perfect Mormon compliance, I would be happy.
Still, I distinctly remember postponing my Patriarchal blessing because I was afraid God would tell me what I already knew. He would reveal my secret heretical thoughts to the patriarch and my parents. Until God battered the rebellion out of me, the least I could do was pretend.
Maybe I should just stick to e.e. cummings.
I was thinking about John Donne while driving home yesterday, listening to Christmas music on the radio. I've changed my position on God, but I think John Donne did get one thing right: God gave us reason to protect us.
It wasn't rebellion or sin to question my role as a woman in this church, it was the reason that God gave me. It wasn't sin to love my fellow man, Gay or not Gay. It was perfectly, beautifully, reasonable. God never answered my prayer to batter my heart, because my heart, though broken, was perfect as it was. I knew this driving home, just as the lines of "Oh Holy Night" played through the radio:
"...Till he appeared, and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices."
That thrill of hope sustains me, as I stagger and bang with terror through the million, billion, trillion stars that constitute being Mormon and not-so- Mormon at the same time, especially at Christmas. Pulling into my driveway, I let go of my guilt for the last time, and rejoiced. My soul felt its worth. Now, instead of fearing the beating of a three-personed God, I simply and sincerely hope that what they say about Christ is true.
His law is love, and his gospel is peace.