Saturday, February 12, 2011
Give Yourself Over
- Rev. John Beckwith, "Letter to Juliette Marsten, July 17, 1899", The Life of a Country Parson
* * *
There is grace in the certitude of faith, an elegance of being that is absent without faith in something: one's purpose, one's God, one's best beloved. We are animal brain only without the surrender to an idea or cause greater than ourselves, a letting go of our presumed primacy and instead work in concert with the stuff of our lives to create, actively, knowingly, intentionally create something utterly new: the life we are capable of living.
Each life holds within it the potential of its fullest expression. That is not to say each are alike, or that they should be, but rather that life lived completely and fully used is the privilege of our days. If you accept this idea, how can you ever be bored, or maudlin, or soaked with ennui? How can you let yourself stay fucked and stuck and going nowhere?
Give yourself over to the life that resounds with in you. Do that and you are free.
* * *
There are twenty two letters between Rev. Beckwith and Juliette Marsten that somehow made it through the fall of time. I rummage in junk stores and estate sales for old, odd books. I found Rev. Beckwith's book, probably self-published, at an estate sale years ago and let it sit unread until recently.
The Reverend Beckwith was settled into his work near Lyth Hill in Shropshire in the rural West Midlands for a few years, a newly minted Unitarian clergyman, when he began his correspondence with Mrs. Marsten. She had been a childhood friend to his family and had married about the same time he settled in Shropshire. Her husband, Daniel Marsten, died suddenly and in her despair she wrote to her old friend, assuming his position as a clergyman would provide her with answers.
Nothing was further from the truth.
In his first letter to her dated, March 16, 1897, he writes:
"My sorrow for your loss is not tempered with the unshakable knowledge of a divine plan that could some how explain or justify the tragedy that has befallen you. Such knowledge is not mine, for what plan would use men as fodder and wives as widows? Instead, I can only extend my own faith in the universal goodness of our Creator and promise you a companion in your grief."
It is difficult not to like this guy.
Later, at Christmas the same year he writes:
"Do not be idle with your despair, Juliette. You write that this year's celebration of the birth of Christ is void of any joy for you now that your beloved Daniel is gone: 'All colour and flavor are drained from the world.' But I must caution you against too much mourning. All colour and flavor still exist in the world. It is you, through the burden of your grief, who has ceased to see it, ceased to taste it. Set your burden down and restore the vibrancy that is life to your life. I shall always be here to serve you should you need me."
Slowly, apparently without knowing it, the Rev. John George Beckwith began to woo the widow Marsten. The penultimate letter, the one quoted at the top of this page, dated July 17, 1899, was an answer to her doubts about the propriety of coming to Shropshire, for he had proposed a week earlier. She questioned where her duty to her dead husband ended and where her responsibilities for her own happiness began.
"Give yourself over to the life that resounds within you. Do that and you are free."
They married at Christmas, 1899. They had four children - three sons and a daughter. Two of the boys, twins, Malcom and Theodore, were killed in the Second Battle of the Marne, just 18 years old. The remaining son, William, went on to Cambridge and became a Latin scholar. Their daughter, Samantha, married and settled in Church Stretton in the south of Shropshire and had six children. The Reverend and Mrs. Beckwith lived to an old age. She died in 1961 and he followed her not three months later at Christmas of that year. They are buried side by side on Lyth Hill.
* * *
The last letter in their correspondence was simply this from Juliette: "I am on my way."
If your life is fucked unfuck it.
Give yourself over to the life that resounds within you.
The Reverend Beckwith was spot on.