William Blake

Today is William Blake’s 250th birthday.

I first learned that such a thing as mysticism existed when I studied Blake in my 11th grade English class. My teacher, Mrs. Romano, gave us a handout about Blake, in which she described him as “a mystic.” I asked her what that meant. She fumbled through her answer, but basically suggested he was a super-spiritual visionary. I don’t know if I fell in love with Blake or with mysticism that day, but both appealed to me.

When I was in college, I simply adored Blake, and thought that I would eventually go on to get my Ph.D. writing a dissertation on Blake. Obviously that never happened, and eventually I grew impatient with how idiosyncratic Blake’s vision is. Even so, I’ve always loved him, and consider his best works to be shining jewels in the crown of English literature. In Ulysses, James Joyce talks about “Blake’s wings of excess;” in Mysticism, Evelyn Underhill says Blake “shines like a solitary star in the uncongenial atmosphere of the Georgian age.” She calls Blake a “Protestant mystic” but I think Blake’s genius as a mystic belongs to world mysticism, rather than to its Christian sub-genre.

Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows my favorite Blake quote, from the Songs of Innocence:

And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love.

But my all-time favorite work of his is clearly The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Granted, the ideas in this poem fall outside the boundaries of orthodox Christian theology (C. S. Lewis even tried to grant heaven and hell a divorce), but it is a brilliant glimpse into the promise of integral mysticism. The climax of the tale comes when Blake, accompanied by an angel, descends into the maelström of hell; in the midst of a vision worthy of Dante or Bosch, Leviathan appears and lunges toward them. The terrified angel quickly scrams and leaves Blake who notes that once the fear-ridden consciousness of the angel had left, so too the terrors of hell suddenly disappeared:

then this appearance was no more, but I found myself sitting on a pleasant bank beside a river by moon light hearing a harper who sang to the harp, & his theme was, The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, & breeds reptiles of the mind.

Seen integrally, this represents the transition out of mythic-membership consciousness — where spirituality is all about who is a sheep and who is a goat — and into unitive consciousness (grounded in Psalm 139:8, “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there”). If mysticism means finding joy in God’s presence, then the division between heaven and hell is meaningless, for God is everywhere — even though liberals, who get squeamish about the terrors of hell, explain them away by saying what really puts the hell in hell is that it’s a place where one is separated from God. Poppycock! It’s impossible to be separated from God. Hell is not about being separated from God, it’s about choosing to resist the fire of Divine Love. Then, instead of making us incandescent, it burns. Integral consciousness recognizes that the key to heaven and hell lies within our heart. We are all predestined to spend eternity immersed in the presence of God, bearing the beams of God’s love. How we experience those beams — as heavy and burdensome, or as joyous as light — is, thanks to the free gift of grace, pretty much left up to us.

Okay, so I’ve wandered a long way off of William Blake, but that in itself is testimony to the splendor of his thought, idiosyncratic though it may be.

Happy birthday, William. Tell the harper I said hello.

Print Friendly

  • Jason Aubrey

    Carl – do you have a suggestion for where to get started with Ken Wilber? I see him come up a lot in discussions about mysticism generally, and I’m particularly struck by how popular he seems to be among Christian contemplatives. People like Thomas Keating, Richard Rohr, Wayne Teasdale, and Cynthia Bourgeault have all been in dialogue with Ken Wilber and seem to at least partially accept his way of looking at things. This is pretty surprising to me since KW seems to have more of a buddhist-type metaphysics than a Christian one. Thanks!
    Jason

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Count me among the Wilber-boosters, although I’m clear that Wilber is not a Christian, even though I think he is relatively Christian-friendly. His cosmology is mostly a Vedantic/Neoplatonist hybrid, but one of his guiding principals is that “no one is smart enough to be wrong all the time” and that allows him to dialogue constructively with contemplatives like Keating. Thanks to Wilber’s and Keating’s association (I call them “the bald boys of Colorado”), Wilber has become an advocate of Centering Prayer. When you read Wilber, keep asking yourself “How would this picture look different if grace were introduced?” That’s where I, as a Christian, primarily differ with Wilber’s thought. But as an interfaith-friendly and science-friendly Christian, I love his fascinating efforts to map the human consciousness in ways that integrate science with both eastern and western wisdom traditions. Now, to answer your question: if you can afford it, spring for the 10-CD set, Kosmic Consciousness. I know that’s a big expense, so if you want to start small, try A Brief History of Everything. The Essential Ken Wilber: An Introductory Reader and Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution also belong on your reading list as well. Actually, I’m not as impressed with his work in recent years, I think he’s trying to establish a legacy (or write a bestseller) and so there’s a level of self-consciousness that mars his current work. But even his newest stuff is filled with interesting insights. Have fun. And if you’re in Atlanta, come to my Ken Wilber class which will be offered through Evening at Emory next February.

  • zobcity1

    “allows him to dialogue constructively with contemplatives like Keating. Thanks to Wilber’s and Keating’s association (I call them “the bald boys of Colorado”), Wilber has become an advocate of Centering Prayer. When you read Wilber, keep asking yourself “How would this picture look different if grace were introduced?” That’s where I, as a Christian, primarily differ with Wilber’s thought. But as an interfaith-friendly and science-friendly Christian, I love his fascinating efforts to map the human consciousness in ways that integrate science with both eastern and western wisdom traditions. ”

    WOW
    DOUBLE WOW

    You don’t hide any of your situational whimsicle ethics do you?

    Your interweaving of worldly wisdoms while pontificating “Godliness” as a supposed Christian really needs to be made public so others do not fall pray to your compromising amalgamations.

  • zobcity1

    It;s this kind of misdirection that seduces people by the millions like Rick Warren does.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    This website is as public as I know how to make it. If you’d like to help get the word out, be my guest.
    :-)

  • zobcity1

    The embracing of some of these new age theologies and tolerance of entertainment of these metaphorical allegorical precepts is exactly what the bible says not to do.
    Unbelievable!
    .

  • zobcity1

    Simple facts and truth here.
    You blur the line of reality, I expose the benchmark!

  • zobcity1

    2 Thess 2:3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;

  • zobcity1

    You people are at the end of the world and don’t realize it and are playing foolish games with your own souls.

    Wise up and repent and put away your worthless intellects.

  • zoecarnate

    Hi Zob,

    I think you’re being most discourteous on someone else’s blog. If you want to change hearts and minds, adopting a condescending tone doesn’t help us listen to you.

    I understand why you feel anxious. I think many of us were raised in Christian contexts where Fear was the chief spiritual virtue. But I can tell you–my love for God and Scripture has only deepened in the intervening years, walking hand-in-hand with a greater generosity toward my neighbors and a wide-eyed wonderment at what we can all learn from each other.

    Does ‘mysticism’ scare you? Let me recommend a conservative Christian-friendly book about fellowshipping with God in all the riches of Christ: Beholding and Becoming. Its free here as an eBook. Enjoy.

  • Peter

    Zob,

    The Bible tells us to love our enemies and bless those who disagree with us.

    The use of “metaphorical allegorical precepts” was the main teaching method of Jesus and was used to great effect by Paul and Peter and John, and extremely effectively in the book of Hebrews. Jesus explained very clearly why He did this in His ministry (Matthew 13:13-17; Luke 8:10). Simply put, it is impossible to understand the meaning of the Bible, especially the parables, without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of grace and truth. This is not a matter of intellect but of openness to the spiritual interpretation of truth, for “God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth.” John 3:24

    The bottom line here is the introduction of grace, the sovereign grace of God, into this discussion as well as into the discussion Carl was talking about earlier. I pray for you, that the grace of God revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ, that you profess to believe in so fiercely, will permeate your heart and soul and mind, and free you to see where Jesus is living in the hearts of those who are seeking to know Him better (jncluding these ‘liberals’ and ‘mystics’ that you seem so afraid of).

    “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

    God bless you, brother!
    Peter

  • http://wildfaith.blogspot.com/ Darrell Grizzle

    Zob, you’re not fooling everyone with your “concerned Christian” facade. Having studied cults and ancient religions, I recognize the word Zob, and its derivative Zobcity, as one of the “barbarous words” used by those who pray to Baphomet. May God have mercy on your soul. Put away your black candles and come into the Light.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X