Though it has been fifteen years since I graduated from college, I still have some of my college textbooks, including Volume One of "The American Tradition in Literature" (6th edition).
Some months ago, while perusing through the text for information on a post I was writing, I came across excerpts from Jonathan Edwards, a mid-18th century Puritan from New England, who was an important catalyst for the first "Great Awakening". He is perhaps best known for his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. It is a sermon replete with references to fire and brimstone. I can only imagine how the congregation that was on the receiving end of Edwards' fiery preaching must have felt at the tongue lashing he unleashed on them. If you want to suffer through it in its entirety, you can read it here.
But what really caught my interest was an excerpt from his Personal Narrative. As befits the title, it is an extremely personal meditation on Edwards' religious faith and what it meant to him. To a 21st century secular minded person such as myself, Edwards ecstatic language comes across as bizarre, and sometimes downright creepy.
Here are a few examples:
"It has often appeared to me delightful, to be united to Christ; to have him for my head, and to be a member of his body; also to have Christ for my teacher and prophet. I often think with sweetness, and longings, and pantings of soul, of being a little child, taking hold of Christ, to be led by him through the wilderness of this world." And don't forget to spend some time at the Neverland Ranch while you are at it!
"Sometimes, only mentioning a single word caused my heart to burn within me; or only seeing the name of Christ, or the name of some attribute of God. And God has appeared glorious to me, on account of the Trinity. It has made me have exalting thoughts of God, that he subsists in three persons; Father, Son and Holy Ghost." Did he shoot a load in his pants every time he recited the Lord's Prayer?
"Once as I rode out into the woods for my health... I had a view that for me was extraordinary, of the glory of the Son of God, as Mediator between God and Man, and his wonderful, great, full, pure and sweet grace and love, and meek and gentle condescension. The person of Christ appeared ineffably excellent with an excellency great enough to swallow up all thought and conception-which continued as near as I can judge, about an hour; which kept me the greater part of the time in a flood of tears, and weeping aloud." (Emphasis mine). Imagine encountering this guy while hunting in the woods! The mountain men from 'Deliverance' would have had a field day with him. "Take your pants off boy. I'll give you something to weep and moan about."
"I have greatly longed of late, for a broken heart, and to lie low before God; and when I ask for humility, I cannot bear the thoughts of being no more humble than other Christians. It seems to me, that though their degrees of humility may be suitable for them; yet it would be a vile self-exaltation to me, not to be the lowest in humility of all mankind." Spank me Jesus! Spank me!
UPDATE: I don't know how this one slipped past me when I first wrote this post:
"I was almost constantly in ejaculatory prayer, wherever I was." Shit, if I went to church, I definitely would not want this man sitting in the pew behind me.
Jonathan Edwards was a very strange fellow.