Sharing Blake at Christmas
by Salim Mansur
We live in deeply troubled times, and these will likely grow in our increasingly inter-connected world.
But happily once a year when much of the world gathers to celebrate the birth of the special child Jesus, we can take a break from troubles pressing upon us to reflect upon the mysteries of life on Earth and beyond.
Mystery surrounds us from the moment we arrive on Earth until we depart. At its most elementary the mystery is about what sustains this "brief crack of light" – as the great writer Vladimir Nabokov in his autobiography, Speak, Memory, phrased his opening sentence – "between two eternities of darkness."
Is life merely this fleeting moment compressed between eternal darkness on either side?
This remains the most compelling question that men and women of varying intellects through the ages have pondered over and most, I suspect, preferred believing that life is a passage, in the words of William Blake, "through Eternal Death! And of the awaking to Eternal Life."
Such belief rests on faith that there is an unseen power, eternally good, merciful, loving and beautiful beyond our earthly sight yet visible to our inner vision as Blake reminds us.
I refer to Blake, having gone back to reading him again during the past months, for he is perhaps the most loved mystic poet in the English language.
Blake was born 250 years ago in London on Nov. 28, 1757, and died there Aug. 12, 1827.
He was, in the words of one recent biographer, "a competent engraver, an eccentric painter" and "a devout believer in Christ as the embodiment of the human imagination."
All his life Blake was moved by the vision of God whose love was incarnated in the human form of Jesus.
God in Blake's vision was a personal Deity.
He was not lodged within the formal ornate settings of religious institutions or encountered in the lifeless pages of sacred texts.
In the long poem Jerusalem, Blake writes:
It is the mystic in Blake who cuts across cultural boundaries and religious divide to bring people together on the common grounds of a shared vision:
For Blake it was not what we see, but how we see that was crucial. He wrote, "A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees."
Blake's vision was a needed rebellion against the arid philosophy of the rationalists with their mechanistic view of the universe that killed imagination.
It was also a vision informed by the despair of grinding poverty in the midst of rising wealth, of an England of newly arranged workshops and factories. And Blake warned:
Our age has invented instruments to see the outer edges of stellar space and map the universe of the infinitely small, yet Blake's vision in our time has become perilously dim.
This Christmas we could do well sharing Blake with each other and discovering with him the peace that comes in knowing "All deities reside in the human breast."
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