Like many Americans, I know Jonathan Edwards primarily through his “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon, in which he compares our Creator to a psychopath holding a spider above a flame, just itching to drop the hapless creature to its fiery death. Needless to say, I figured that Edwards was probably as screwed up as the deity of whom he preached. So I was quite surprised when a spiritual director of mine back in my Episcopalian days suggested that Edwards was the great American mystic. “Read his Religious Affections,” he counseled me. I must confess I never did (although I do own a copy and hope to get to it someday). But now that I’m reading Fremantle’s anthology of Protestant Mystics, I’m impressed by the excerpts from Edwards’ autobiography included in that anthology. Clearly, when he wasn’t preaching scary sermons, Jonathan Edwards had a rich and joyful sense of Divine Intimacy in his life. He also seemed to be familiar with lectio divina, if not explicitly, then at least through his own discovery by engaging with scripture. Consider this tidbit, from the winter of his nineteenth year:
I had then, and at other times, the greatest delight in the holy scriptures, of any book whatsoever. Oftentimes in reading it, every word seemed to touch my heart. I felt a harmony between something in my heart, and those sweet and powerful words. I seemed often to see so much light exhibited by every sentence, and such a refreshing ravishing food communicated, that I could not get along in reading. Used oftentimes to dwell long on one sentence, to see the wonders contained in it; and yet almost every sentence seemed to be full of wonders.
Would that we all could find so much illumination in the encounter with the sacred text of our tradition!