Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make mee new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end;
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved faine,
But am betroth’d unto your enemie:
Divorce mee, untie, or breake that knot againe;
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish mee.
John Donne, English metaphysical poet, 1572-1631
It is well worth meditating on this amazing sonnet! Donne’s most famous poem is ‘No man is an island’. As with other 17th century metaphysical poets, he dissected spiritual matters in a language that had not been heard before by using ‘conceits’ – images which yoke things seemingly unalike. To quote Wikipedia: “These features in combination with his frequent dramatic or everyday speech rhythms, his tense syntax, and his tough eloquence were both a reaction against the smoothness of conventional Elizabethan poetry and an adaptation into English of European baroque and mannerist techniques. His early career was marked by poetry that bore immense knowledge of British society and he met that knowledge with sharp criticism. Another important theme in Donne’s poetry was the idea of true religion, which was something that he spent a lot of time considering and theorizing about…” He was an Anglican priest who became Dean of St Paul’s cathedral in 1621.
This poem is full of passion and violence – a love poem written to God. Donne sounds desperate to experience the overwhelming force of Love that will set him free from his bondage. He laments his inability to reason his way out of his coldness and captivity and that his will is too weak to escape the betrothal ‘unto your enemie’. Only the power of the ‘three person’d God’ can break him free: “o’erthrow mee and bend Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make mee new” “divorce mee, untie, or breake that knot againe, Take mee to you, imprison mee”… Its strong stuff! Are we that desperate for the Lord? How shocking was it for Donne to write “Nor ever chaste, except you ravish mee”? It shows an understanding of the intensity of God’s desire for us – and yes, that word used for ‘to know the Lord’ (eg in Hosea 2v20) IS the same word in Hebrew as in ‘Adam knew his wife’!
“for, you as yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend”… we love the gentleness of the Lord. We are so fond of saying ‘God is a gentleman’. Sometimes I am not so sure! He is the Lover and the Healer, the Mother and the Father, but it seems He does also allow the circumstances of life to break and batter us. It is the storms that throw us on His mercy, that cause us to let down our defences and yield to His way of doing things…
“Endure hardship as discipline, God is treating you as sons” Hebrews 12v7
“Come let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces, but He will heal us; He has injured us but He will bind up our wounds” Hosea 6v1
“The light of the sun will be seven times brighter… on the day the Lord binds up the wound of His people and heals the bruise He has inflicted” Isaiah 30v26
My heart is battered and bruised. The temptation is there to turn on the Lord, become angry and resentful… Yet I know that God is passionate for me – He wants it all – and that He will take me to extremes to win me over and cause me to yield to Him: “not my will but yours be done”. He doesn’t have the same priorities as us: He is not out to give us an easy life(!) but to see Christ formed in us and His purposes worked through us on the earth. Someone the other day called it ‘apostolic suffering’.
The great comfort through all this is that our Saviour shared in our humanity: He is gentle and humble of heart and He knows how much I can take. His heart was pierced by a spear: he demonstrated the Passion of God for His world. I am continuing to trust that He is good and knows what He is doing: I can cast my care on Him, lean heavily on Him, because He cares for me. A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice” Isaiah 42v3.
So while I, like John Donne, really do want the ‘battering of my heart’ by the Almighty Lover, I know I can also trust Jesus with my battered heart today.