Tag Archives: religion

Rain Poem

The poetry of rainy evenings and lo mein boxes.

An iron sheet of heaven’s malice beats
The face of this, my forgotten city.
Night children, aimless, seek absolution
From sins they did not know they had performed—
Neon confessionals and liquor store
Priests hear stoned apologies for nothing.
That unholy shower washes away
These souls which find salvation in a bottle.

-Michael Sweeney



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The Pilgrim’s Progress and the Psychology of Salvation

In The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come; Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream the universal struggle for meaning, here represented as salvation in the Celestial City, is demonstrated from the perspective of John Bunyan and his autobiographical everyman Christian. Bunyan achieves the expression of this struggle through the use of a complex allegory of the Christian life and the path to salvation. Bunyan’s spiritual journey reflects his internal psychological struggle with what he saw as his “past sin” and the flaws he found in himself. The Pilgrim’s Progress is, in this sense, a deeply autobiographical work. Bunyan is expressing, though the life of Christian, his own challenges, triumphs, and failures on the road to salvation.

John Bunyan’s early contact with spirituality and with the conflicts surrounding him during the English reformation are clearly visible within the allegory presented in The Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan’s largely normal and healthy early life1 concealed the deeper psychological and spiritual problems he harbored, problems which would be awakened by his pious first wife and his later contact with the English dissenters.2 His career as a preacher began under the influence of his wife in 1653 at the Bedford Meeting.3 These early days of Bunyan’s religious career led him to begin the psychological and theological odyssey that is the Christian life, culminating in his authorship of The Pilgrim’s Progress.

The Pilgrim’s Progress is a rendering of Christian life,4 the allegory of the journey outlining the underlying psychological changes undergone in its course. Applied more widely to life in general, the “journey” Christian experiences can be seen in the quest for ultimate meaning and personal discovery. John Bunyan’s early life was characterized by both physical disease5 and mental illness,6 details of his inner life independent of his religious experience, but essential as catalysts of his personal growth. Depression and depressive ideas, as exemplified in the Slough of Despond, were important parts of Bunyan’s early life which he needed to overcome. Bunyan’s depression revolves around a kind of personal discovery and detachment from the sins of his past, this kind of Despond becoming relevant “when a man begins for the first time to think seriously about himself” and “the first thing that rises before him is a consciousness of his miserable past life.”7 The burden of past sins, as represented by a physical burden on Christian, is an important aspect of the journey being discussed in The Pilgrim’s Progress. It is more than a symbol of past sins, it is a deeper allegory for the past in general. In reading the book and listening to Evangelist, Christian becomes aware of the past and his sins within the past. I this sense, the burden which Bunyan sees as “an innumerable company of my sins and transgressions,”8 represents all of life prior to Christian’s rebirth in the Celestial city. It is in overcoming this burden that Christian reaches salvation in shedding himself of the burden of sin, but more broadly he finds meaning in the present by shedding himself of the burden of the past.

Beyond the complex psychological mire from which Bunyan drew his influence, he was informed by the geographic, political, and cultural environment in England.9 Bunyan’s nonconformist faith was in a tenuous balance with the Puritan and High-Anglican movements of his day. Early in life he fought alongside the Puritans in the Parliamentary Army, helping to expel King Charles I. Under the Puritan-controlled Parliament of Oliver Cromwell, dissenters like Bunyan were largely allowed to practice independently of government control. It was with the rise of Charles II to the throne that life for dissenters and nonconformists of all stripes became much more difficult. Forced underground by laws prohibiting the public preaching of non-ordained or non-Anglican ministers, openly dissenting preachers like Bunyan were imprisoned en masse.10 It was during just such a prison sentence that Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress.

Religious dissent grew in England in direct correlation to the English Civil War. During Puritan rule while dissenters and nonconformists were free to practice, many like Bunyan flocked to their numbers. It was under the returned monarch Charles II that the role of religious dissenters in religious and political matters in England was solidified.11 Movements of dissent covered wide regions including most of England and Wales,12 being well established by the time of Bunyan’s conversion.13 Prior to the eventual crackdown on non-Anglican practices by Charles II, nonconformism and dissent had been promoted in rural areas outside of the Church’s control in order to prevent the expansion of Catholicism.14 With his roots such a frantically divisive and politically unstable period, Bunyan’s role as a controversialist is probably to be expected. He remained “irritated when reminded of his humble birth,” and “reproached the privileged of this world,”15 and he worked in economic and political agitation against commercial dishonesty, fraud, and corruption in the government and in companies.16 Both under Parliament and the Monarch, Bunyan was both a political and religious dissident, all of which was informed by his faith and his search for purpose. The complex underlying conflicts of his conscience went hand-in-hand with his place as an outspoken author and preacher, and “his ethics were the fruit of his religion.”17

Part of Bunyan’s earliest influence was his disagreement with those around him. “The disagreement among Bunyan’s friends is easily explicable”18 in the sense that Bunyan uses both his poetic and doctrinal work to argue his own points against those who disagree with him. Bunyan was further in conflict with those around him who were not his friends, demonstrated in his mixed views on the neighbors of Christian.19 Bunyan was boisterously active in the fight against those whom he saw as “all talk or show, and no action,”20 leading him into conflict with Quakers, Anglicans, dissenters, and many others.21 His primary targets were those who he felt hampered others chances of spiritual achievement or of finding salvation. These characters in his own life became the antagonists of The Pilgrim’s Progress, contributing to his own rich allegory of personal growth under communal influence.

The essential nature of the community in Bunyan’s image of the Christian life is visible in his depiction of Christian’s neighbors and of those whom he encounters along the path to the Celestial City. Early on the pilgrimage, characters such as Pliable, Obstinate, Fearing and others serve to either hold back or otherwise prevent Christian from continuing on his pilgrimage to the Celestial City. Pliable demonstrates Bunyan’s criticism of the vapid faith of those who can be swayed to enthusiastic devotion to a cause, but who stop at the nearest sign of danger.22 Pliable’s attitude, “rather than a valorization of neighborliness, . . . becomes a point of satire in Bunyan’s text.”23 Later figures such as Little-Faith serve to solidify Bunyan’s sense of neighbors and surroundings as more challenging than helpful. Along with figures like Atheist and others, Little-Faith is an example of a character actually driving Christian backward rather than onward on his journey.24 The conflict with those around him which Christina is forced to undergo along his pilgrimage culminates with his battle against Apollyon, “Christian panoplied in heavenly mail,/O’ercame Apollyon in that fearful fight.”25 The final victory in battle represents a substantial shift in the way Christian relates to his enemies and friends, another important feature of his psychological journey. Much of Bunyan’s work prior to his imprisonment consisted of sermons and doctrinal critiques.26 These works were most essentially an expression of his political and social concerns, but they link these concerns to his religious feelings. Bunyan felt he had a gift as a preacher, and her sought to share that gift with the world through his early works of doctrinal nonfiction.27 His growth from largely doctrinal and religious writing to the work of novel-writing in The Pilgrim’s Progress and his later work shows a shift in Bunyan’s way of approaching religion, this is the shift to allegory. In her work “Trope and Truth in The Pilgrim’s Progress,” Machosky compares Bunyan’s shift from doctrinal to allegorical works to the “fall from the realm of heaven and true light into the dark and profane world in which we live.”28 Bunyan must bring his work from the heavenly heights of doctrinal discussion and nonfiction down to a level at which average people might understand his inner thoughts. This is both a technical and spiritual shift in Bunyan’s life in the sense that he is changing fundamentally the way he approaches his deepest spiritual concerns.

Allegory in The Pilgrim’s Progress plays a central role in the development of the plot and in the creation of the more complex details of the deeper meanings. Bunyan’s inner spiritual life is fleshed out in the complex allegorical system he creates. Allegory was not widely used in Protestant circles during Bunyan’s time, especially among Calvinists. Calvin saw the danger in allegory lying in the difficulty of fully grasping the allegorical intent of the work. Bunyan was fully immersed in Calvinist religious traditions throughout his life, and to break with their traditional views of allegory represents another important feature of the spiritual and psychological premise underlying The Pilgrim’s Progress. In this sense, it is possible to see Bunyan’s broader spiritual and psychological journey through both the story of Christian in the novel, but also through the story of how the novel came to be. It is both a shift in the subject and style of his work, and it is a doctrinally questionable departure from traditional methods of expressing this journey. The allegory of The Pilgrim’s Progress becomes more and more difficult to fully grasp with the passage of time, and Bunyan’s own fears about the misinterpretation of his work are clear in the many detailed explanations and addenda to his work provided, in poetic form before the work, in his Biblical references, and in the form of a sequel about Christian’s wife and family.29 It is the proper reading of the allegory that is most important to Bunyan because “Bunyan’s primary interest is not with an emblematic tradition or poetic glory, but rather. . . as a means of pointing toward intangible qualities that he believed man needed most.” Bunyan’s introductory apology for his allegorical “dream” is probably most indicative of his hesitance to dive headlong into an allegorical piece,30 but his insistence on using this method shows its necessity in a full understanding of Bunyan’s journey. As a literary trope, “allegory cannot be completely controlled,”31 and is thus sometimes a less than desirable system for expression. The Pilgrim’s Progress exhibits both the primary weakness and the central beauty of allegory as a literary tool and social trope in the sense that it approaches its reader in a way that is at once completely free of the author’s control and deeply rooted in the author’s psychological being.

An important key to the functionality of Bunyan’s allegory in the expression of his psychological premise is the role of Christian as the everyman.32 “The objective of Bunyan’s work is to make a traveler of anyone who follows its course.” Bunyan forces the reader to confront his own sin and psychological struggle by making him “an armchair pilgrim.”33 It was essential to draw together the reader and Christian in the sense that Christian is both an autobiographical character and an everyman because it brings together the psychological struggles of Bunyan and the psychological struggles of the reader. This feature is what makes Bunyan’s allegory so successful. Despite the difficulty of later interpretation, there is a deeper level of understanding available to the reader by placing the reader in Christian’s shoes.34 This close relationship between Bunyan and his readers allows for both a full understanding of Bunyan’s psychological and theological points and a deeper self relation of the reader to the work.

The use of movement as a point of allegory in Bunyan’s work is part of how the internal changes of the individual are described.35 The individual is on a path, taking a journey from blindness and meaninglessness to salvation. The question “why standest thou still?”36 Is posed to the reader as central to the understanding of Bunyan’s intent. When all possibility of salvation and escape from destruction are offered, why does the average person remain as he is? This is part of what Bunyan tackles in The Pilgrim’s Progress by saddling the reader with his own burden of sin. By helping the reader to understand the deeper struggle of Bunyan’s spiritual life, characters like Evangelist and Good Will in pushing Christian along the path to the Celestial City mirror Bunyan himself, or at least as he sees himself, in the capacity of a preacher guiding sinners to salvation.37

The universal struggle for meaning and salvation, as approached by Bunyan in The Pilgrim’s Progress, is essential to his spiritual development and to the growth and completion of the Christian life. John Bunyan’s use of allegory is essential because it condenses the deep psychological suffering of one without salvation, one who live in the past and wallows in the mire of his sin, into a more tangible, physical journey from one point to another. This method allows the reader to more fully grasp Bunyan’s own flaws and triumphs, and it draws in the reader to an understanding of his own sin and psychological struggles. The journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City is one which every man and woman must make in life, and Bunyan captures the essential nature of such a journey by expressing the trials and tribulations of not only the Christian life, but of any examined and well-lived life. This is the essential character of the work, and it is the underlying truth of Christian life.

1 Josiah Royce, The Case of John Bunyan (Detroit: U of Michigan, 1976) 26.
2 Adam Sills, “‘Mr. Bunyan’s Neighborhood’ and the Geography of Dissent” (Detroit: Literature Resource Center, 2010) 1.
3 Royce 26.
4 Julia Roller, ed., 25 Books Every Christian Should Read (New York: Harper Collins, 2011) 193.
5 Royce 27.
6 Daniel Gibson Jr., “On the Genesis of Pilgrim’s Progress” (Detroit: Literature Resource Center, 2010) 4.
7 James Anthony Froude, Bunyan (New York: AMS Press, 1968) 156.
8 Stanley Eugene Fish, “Progress in The Pilgrim’s Progress” (Detroit: Literature Resource Center, 2010) 3.
9 Sills 4.
10 Froude 68.
11 Sills 3.
12 Sills 1.
13 Sills 2.
14 Sills 1-2.
15 Henri Talon, John Bunyan- The Man and His Works (Cambridge: Harvard U, 1951) 282-283.
16 Talon 288. 17 Talon 272-274.
18 Froude 154
19 Royce 33
20 Richard H. Schmidt, God Seekers (Grand Rapids:William B. Erdmans Publishing,2008) 206.
21 Talon 94.
22 Alexander Whyte, Bunyan Characters: First Series (Edinburgh: Project Gutenberg, 2005) 29.
23 Sills 23.
24 – – -, Bunyan Characters: Second Series (Edinburgh: Project Gutenberg, 2005) 29.
25 Bernard Barton, “Lines on Seeing the Portrait of John Bunyan” (Detroit: Literature Resource Center, 2010) 2.
26 Fish 3.
27 Talon 106.
28 Brenda Machosky, “Trope and Truth in The Pilgrim’s Progress” (Detroit: Literature Resource Center, 2010) 1.
29 Machosky 4.
30 Machosky 8.
31 Machosky 5.
32 Roller 193.
33 Machosky 6.
34 Roller 194. 35 Gibson 6.
36 Fish 4.
37 Gibson 3.

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The 99 Names of God

An essential feature of the Islamic religion is its all encompassing radical monotheism. The reverence for God as the greatest supreme being, an incomparable creator force and guide, is exemplified in the recognition of God’s many facets and roles in the universe. The “ninety-nine names of God” are a collection of names that describe the purpose and power of God in the universe and in the lives of human-beings.

One of the most essential examples of a “name of God” is “The Creator.” God’s role in the universe is primarily and ultimately as the creator and source of everything. He is the divine origin point of all creation in Islam, and He serves a very similar role as in the Genesis account of creation. He is the architect of the heavens and the earth, and He creates humanity in the form of Adam and Eve. This shared creation myth demonstrates the deep connections between the Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions in regards to God, and it is one of the more significant overlap points between the two traditions.

Another name of God that plays an important role in Muslim tradition is “The Just.” This name, along with “The Judge,” “The Merciful,” and “The Accepter of Repentance” shows God’s role as an even-handed judge for the universe. Both just and merciful, He gives out judgements to each human-being based on what they deserve, and on what they can handle. God passes judgement on sinners, but is never willing to fully turn away from them. The nature of sin in Islam tends to differ slightly from the Christian sense in that God is even more willing to accept the repentant sinner than in most faiths. On of the essential facets of His personality is the acceptance of this repentance.

As a counterpoint to His mercy, God’s role as “The Abaser,” “The Harming,” “The Degrading,” “The Life-Taker,” and “The Vanquisher” represents the ultimately challenging and humbling nature of the universe and of God. God’s purpose is not just to guide his creation gently along the way, but to place obstacles in the way of men in order to humble them and eventually bring order and tranquility. God vanquishes evil, but he also abases and degrades righteous men in order to put them in their places. Islam does not deny the essential nature of suffering, and they see it as part of the grand plan of God. Predestination is present in Islam in full recognition of the difficulties of life and the problems of suffering and evil.

The most fascinating of the names of God is “The Real.” It emphasizes the ultimate truth of not just God’s existence, but of His law, His creation, and His other names and facets. God is seen as being the ultimate expression of what is real because He is the creator and sustainer of those things. God is not just real in a transcendent sense, independent of His creation; but also as an immanent force that penetrates and surround creation. That is why this name of God is so essential: without it, the others would cease to have purpose.

God is a complex figure in Islam. This complexity highlights the monotheism of the Islamic faith, and it sustains it as a workable model for the world. The ninety-nine names of God are human expressions of the complexity of the universe and of the human mind. These are really only ideas of what God truly is within a Muslim understanding, but they serve to guide the work with the Qur’an and the other texts in understanding God’s will for both the individual and for mankind.

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Laozi was an important Chinese philosophical and religious figure from between the 6th and 4th centuries B.C. His greatest work was the Tao Te Ching, the main text of the Taoist philosophy, but his life has become shrouded in myths and legends that have obscured his story to the point that even his existence is doubted by some scholars. Despite Laozi’s enigmatic nature, the Tao Te Ching is the cornerstone of a complex spectrum of philosophical and religious movements. Along with the later author Zhuangzi, Laozi serves as the primary thinker behind Taoism as a movement of both thought and practice.

Born Li Er around the village of Quren (modern day Henan Province) in China, Laozi was an important official in the court of the Chinese Zhou Dynasty (1046 B.C.- 256 B.C.) He served as a shi or court scholar, and he worked as an archivist for the Emperor. His position as an archivist and imperial official would have given him access to many of the classics of Chinese thought up to that point, and he would have become a skilled and knowledgeable scholar by the end of his career. Having a broad understanding of other currents of thought would certainly have contributed to his eventual recognition as one of the greatest sages of Chinese history.

The life of Laozi comes to us primarily in the form of legends and parables of his life, as well as through the teachings of the Tao Te Ching. Most of the stories suggest that he never established a school in which to teach his philosophy, but he still managed to gather a large following of disciples and students willing to listen to his work. Among the most famous of those said to have interacted with him was Confucius, yet another great Chinese thinker, whom he criticized for his pride and ambition. The connection between the two thinkers is tenuous at best, and it is unlikely that they ever really met.

One of the central legends of Laozi’s life was the story of his departure for the west. In this tale, Laozi becomes fed up with the degeneracy of court life and the collapsing Zhou Dynasty, and he decides to leave China for the west. Coming to the Xiangu pass (the main overland exit from China at the time) the legendary guardian of Xiangu, Yinxi asked Laozi to write a book of his teachings. He is said to have written a 5,000 character volume of his teachings on the Tao (the way) and the Te (virtue) after which he left, never to be seen again. This story of the writing of the Tao Te Ching is interesting because of how mythical the life of Laozi had become by the time this tale was written.

The primary idea behind Taoism is known as wu-we or non-action. The idea is that by reducing the amount of impact people have on surrounding events, they can more fully allow the Tao, or the way things are, to unfold. By behaving effortlessly, without thinking and planning everything to be done, beings are able to become more effectively in harmony with the Tao. Because of the importance of non-action and lack of control over other beings, rituals and hierarchical religious practices were seen as unnecessary, leaning more to individualistic philosophical systems than religions.

The concept of yin and yang is also important to a Taoist understanding of the world. When something is recognized, it is only in light of that thing’s opposite. Good exists because of evil, light exists because of dark. The taijitu, popularly called a yin/yang symbol, represents the monism of Taoism, while also reflecting the idea of opposites as part of a whole.

As Taoism developed, the more philosophical branch became less and less important, only remaining popular amongst the upper classes, and a more mythical religious Taoism developed. This strain of the tradition centered less on the philosophical ideas of the Tao Te Ching and blended with Chinese folk religion to incorporate alchemy, exorcism, divination, traditional medicine, and obtaining immortality. Where rituals were seen as unnecessary in early Taoism, they became essential to religious Taoism. Individualism gave way to a more traditional, clerical religion.

In religious Taoism Laozi was identified with divinity, and he became an important deity for many Taoists. The ideas in the Tao Te Ching became divinely written scripture in this understanding. Today religious Taoism is an important part of Chinese culture, and priests wearing distinctive vestments can be seen performing rituals in large Taoist temples both in mainland China and Taiwan. Laozi’s life and work have been shrouded in 2500 years of myth and religious experience, but his words can still offer quite a lot to the modern world.

Works Cited
Kaltenmark, Max. “Laozi (Chinese Daoist Philosopher).” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/330163/Laozi&gt;.
“Laozi.” Princeton University. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. <https://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Laozi.html&gt;.

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The Development of the A.M.E. Zion Church and its Importance in the Middletown Connecticut Beman Triangle Community

ame zion

Throughout the experience of African Americans in United States History, religion has played an essential role in the growth and development of communities, as well as the fight for equal rights and the spread of education. This is equally true in the Middletown, Connecticut African American community, centered around the neighborhood known as the Beman triangle. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church has consistently served as the center of community life and the “backbone” of the Beman Triangle neighborhood of Middletown since the arrival of the Church in the first half of the 19th century. The Church’s role in the fight against slavery and in favor of free blacks was integral to the success of the African American community of Middletown.

The African Methodist Episcopal Church was founded by James Varick between 1796 and 1821 after several independent African American Methodist communities in New York congregated under Varick as General Superintendent of the Church. The Church was founded as a response to the exclusion of African Americans from leadership and worship in the Methodist Episcopal Church in New York City. Founded alongside the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Philadelphia; during this period the churches were at the forefront of African American opposition to oppression and mistreatment in many northern communities, the Beman Triangle community of Middletown among them. (Sernett 1999, 156)

The A.M.E. Zion Church provided a spiritual and social outlet through Christian religious practice, but it also provided the struggling northern black population with guidance and help toward success. Advocacy for the abolition of slavery and opposition to the oppression of their fellow African Americans were the cornerstones of the A.M.E. Zion church. By separating themselves from the older Methodist groups, African Americans were able to redirect their religious expression to focus on the problems facing free and slave populations of blacks during the 19th century. (Pinn 2009, 67-68)

Methodism, out of which the A.M.E. Zion church was born, was developed by theologian John Wesley and his colleagues in Great Britain during the mid-18th century as part of a religious revival within the Church of England. Wesley and his followers were early pioneers of abolitionism and the inclusion of all people in the Church. Itinerant ministers trained by Wesley himself served as the primary vehicle for the rapid spread of Methodism during its infancy, many of them traveling to the United States and preaching to the poor, both white and black.

The Methodist message was based in revivalism, advocating social and church reform. This helped to spread the movement into areas, like the free African American community, where a widespread demand for change was building. Upon the arrival of Methodism in America, it spread rapidly among the black population, appealing to African Americans primarily through its focus on the poor and oppressed. This popularity, as well as the accessibility of Methodist itinerant ministers and church revivals, allowed the Church to flourish among black population in America. (http://docsouth.unc.edu/church/intro.html)

The evangelical revivalism of the Second Great Awakening in the mid 1700’s was essential to the conversion of many free African Americans to Methodism. Where enslaved people were forced to maintain “invisible institutions” in place of an organized church, free blacks were drawn to the evangelical faith of the Methodists which often resembled traditional African religious practice in its strongly participatory nature.

It was during the rapid spread of Methodism during the beginning of the 19th century that the A.M.E. Zion Church spread to Middletown, Connecticut. Between 1823 and 1828, a local group began to congregate in the home of a man named Asa Jeffrey as Methodists in order to practice their faith. It was the eventual establishment of what is today the Cross Street A.M.E. Zion Church that brought together the African Methodist population of Middletown. They had been meeting there for several years leading up to the arrival of the first pastor, James Anderson and the formation of the congregation by the founding trustees Asa Jeffrey, John Hamilton, Joseph Gilbert, Ebenezer DeForest, and George W. Jeffrey. In addition to fulfilling an essential need for social and religious expression within the community, the new church provided political and social assistance to its people. (http://crossstreetchurch.site.wesleyan.edu/the-founding-of-cross-street-a-m-e-zion-church-in-middletown/)

The story of the Beman Triangle often centers on its namesake Beman family, whose religious and social importance within the community allowed them to fight for equality during a period of gross inequality for African Americans in the United States. Jehiel Beman, a shoemaker, was the first of the Beman family to settle in Middletown; serving as an early pastor of the A.M.E. Zion church there. Jehiel was essential to the formation and growth of the Middletown African American community, actively working on behalf of his neighbors and in favor of the abolition of slavery. His work was an essential part of the movements for abolitionism, temperance, and wider availability of education in Connecticut. (http://crossstreetchurch.site.wesleyan.edu/jehiel-beman-community-leader/)

Beman’s work within the abolitionist movement, especially his involvement of the church with the underground railroad, gave the A.M.E. Zion Church its nickname: “Freedom Church.” This kind of work would come to characterize the behavior of the A.M.E. Zion Church in Connecticut and the rest of the country. (Cunningham, Warner 2002, 11) The political involvement of the church was one of the most valuable roles it played, both in Middletown and the rest of the nation. The Beman family helped to promote the idea that the church, and the community as a whole, should participate in the growth and assistance of the African American community, free and enslaved. The A.M.E. Zion Church often helped to set up “stations” for the underground railroad in order to help lead escaped slaves to safety. (Pinn, 69) The Beman triangle would have been just one of many locations where the Church helped in the underground railroad. The political advocacy and activism of the A.M.E. Zion Church in Middletown continued during the 1950’s and 60’s when, working with the NAACP, the Church and its members participated in a march in support of civil rights. (http://crossstreetchurch.site.wesleyan.edu/the-civil-rights-movement/)

Jehiel Beman’s son, Leverett, was behind the creation of of the African American community at the Beman Triangle in Middletown. His idea of quality housing and a close community for the middle-class black population in Middletown led to the development of just such a community around the Cross Street A.M.E. Zion Church. The church was essential in the formation of this community because of the fact that they provided a system for social and economic improvement for local African Americans so well laid out by Jehiel Beman and other pastors in the years leading up to the formation of the community. (Harris 2013, 113)

The Beman family’s importance in African American education and religious life was perhaps as important as their political and social ideas. When, In 1831, schoolteacher Prudence Crandall opened her school to African-American girls, Jehiel Beman worked to recruit students for the school. As a result of the violent protests against it, the Connecticut Assembly enacted a law in 1833 prohibiting out-of-state black people from being educated in Connecticut. (http://crossstreetchurch.site.wesleyan.edu/the-wesleyan-connection/) The Beman family’s emphasis on education continued with Amos Beman, an educated member of the Beman Triangle community who followed in his father Jehiel’s footsteps as a pastor, this time within the Congregational Church. The power of the church as a force for education and social justice for Middletown African Americans was in part due to Amos Beman’s place as a highly educated black man; initially by a student-tutor from Wesleyan University, and then at the Oneida Institute in New York. Amos Beman was an avid abolitionist and advocate of African American education, and his message was heavily reflective of that of his father, Jehiel. (Harris 2013, 111-112)

Advocacy for African American education in Middletown continued into the 20th century as well, with the Rev. William Davage, pastor of the Cross Street Church, founding the Greater Middletown Negro Youth Scholarship Fund, a program designed to help black high school students go to college. Beginning in 1965, the program helped approximately 50 black students to get an education over a period of 25 years. Pressure from this program contributed to Wesleyan University beginning recruitment of African American students that year. (http://crossstreetchurch.site.wesleyan.edu/the-civil-rights-movement/)

Throughout its history, the A.M.E. Zion Church acted in the many social, political, and religious roles it served in Middletown. These essential activities of the church were important factors in its growth and expansion, as well as the success of many African American individuals and organizations during the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Beman Triangle community, centered on the Cross Street Church, was an important expression of the experience of the broader free-black population in the United States in that they suffered through the discrimination and exclusion from much of mainstream society so common to 19th century African Americans. The role of the church in the African American experience during this period is well illustrated in Middletown by the Cross Street Church’s role providing advocacy, political support, education, and religious expression for the Beman Triangle citizens, as well as Middletown’s black population as a whole.

Works Cited
Harris, K.J. 2013 Freedom and Slavery. In African American Connecticut Explored, edited by E. J. Normen, S. K. Close, K. J. Harris and W. M. F. Mitchell, pp. 3-12. Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT.

Sernett, Milton C., 1999 African American Religious History: A Documentary Witness. ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara, CA.

Cunningham, Janice P.; Warner, Elizabeth A. 2002 An African American Neighborhood – Middletown, Connecticut 1847-1930. Cunningham Preservation Assoc., LLC, Middletown, CT.

Hornsby, Alton., 2011 Black America: A State-by-state Historical Encyclopedia. ABC- CLIO, Santa Barbara, CA.

Maffley-Kipp, Laurie F., 2001 “The Church in the Southern Black Community: Introduction.” The Church in the Southern Black Community: Introduction. University of North Carolina, 24 July 2014. <http://docsouth.unc.edu/church/intro.html&gt;.

2014 “Cross Street Church” Cross Street AME Zion Church – Struggle, Jubilee, Vision. Wesleyan University, 24 July 2014. <http://crossstreetchurch.site.wesleyan.edu/the-founding-of-cross-street-a-m-e-zion-church-in-middletown/&gt;.

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Puritanism and the Shift from British to American Literature

During the course of the 17th and 18th centuries, the literature of the Puritans made the transition from distinctly English literature, to American literature. It represents the bridge in thinking between the older English style of writing and the newer, more independent American way of writing. The changes in Puritan literary styles reflect a larger change in social and religious thinking in New England. The Puritans shifted the focus of literature through several important shifts in both their teachings and the main cultural focus of the literature of the time. The ever evolving patterns of literary development drove onward as the Puritans attempted to maintain older ways. This resulted in a fascinating transformation from English-style religious and political writings, to almost secular poetry and diaries that speak more to the family and to God.

The Puritan movement rose out of the English reformation, and they built on the ideas of purification within the Church of England. Their arguments followed consistent patterns that surrounded sermon-style recitations of doctrine and held to a traditional Calvinist theology. Much of their literature, even the more secular parts of it, reflect the religious nature of their ideas and purpose as a group. i

Puritans emphasized predestination within their theology. They taught that all events were preordained by God, and that a small elect could be saved from damnation. These ideas contrasted heavily with the mainstream Church of England’s more traditional free-will based theology. The divisions within the Church slowly pulled apart the country along religious lines, leading to the English civil war and execution of Charles II as the most powerful expression of these tensions.ii

Puritanism was a reform movement within the Church of England, and their ideas were widely popular during the late stages of the English reformation. The numbers of Puritans grew for about a decade between the 1640’s and 50’s. They reached their peak of population and power in England during the 1650’s after the English Civil War had swept them into power in place of the monarch. Their resistance to the crown played a major role in the development of Puritanism in England.iii

The reformation in England was the direct result of the creation of the Church of England by Henry VIII. Groups like the Puritans rose out of resistance to the more Monarchical religion which they saw as corrupted and unchristian. Puritans were the main representative of Calvinism in Great Britain during this period. iv

The Puritans largely fell out of favor with the English after the restoration of the Monarchy since they were associated with the Puritan republican dictatorship of Oliver Cromwell. This decrease in public support and acceptance lead to persecution which served as the primary impetus for their movement to the New World. v

The trip to the New World was primarily driven by persecution, but it was also accompanied by internal religious strife within the Calvinist wing of English Christianity. The Puritans and Separatists were closely related groups whose aims in terms of the Church of England differed. The Separatists were not in support of internal reform of the Church of England, they wanted to separate from it completely. The Puritans were primarily in support of reforming the Church from within.vi

The Puritans suffered this major division between the Separatists who, are now known as the Pilgrims, and the main body of Puritans who followed the Calvinist Presbyterian model, just prior to the departure for the Americas. Puritans would eventually shift to a primarily Congregational system, though the Presbyterians originally favored the Episcopal polity since it remained part of the Anglican model of religious organization.

English Puritans wrote with a distinctly political bent, they were living in the heat of revolution and dissension that surrounded the English reformation. William Bradford, first governor Plymouth Colony, was also colony historian. His work was formal and factual, reflecting the Puritan and Separatist tendency to avoid fiction. He describes the first impressions of their new home in his history Of Plymouth Plantation.

Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles…they had now no friends to welcome them nor inns to entertain or refresh their weatherbeaten bodies; no houses or much less towns to repair to, to seek for succor…savage barbarians…were readier to fill their sides with arrows than otherwise. vii

His language is stiff and formal, it is clearly not a poetic piece, and it is an example of the primarily non-fictional nature of earlier Puritan literature.

The reserved style of the Puritans was known as Puritan Plain Style literature. This writing was formal, kept to rigid boundaries, generally dealt with religious topics, and was never fictional. It was created in order to avoid offending God by making flashy or upsetting literature. It was designed with religious ideas in mind, and it affectedPuritan and New England literature for many years.viii

Contracts and agreements were very important to colonial culture in general, the Puritans being no exception. Covenants such as the Salem Covenant of 1629 and its extended form from 1636 would have been the extent of creativity in much of the written work of the Puritans.

We Covenant with the Lord and one with another; and doe bynd our selves in the presence of God, to walke together in all his waies, according as he is pleased to reveale himselfe unto us in his Blessed word of truth.ix

The work of a small number of comparatively forward thinking people allowed for the change to more poetic or creative forms expression, still maintaining Puritan Plain Style.

American Puritan writers became distinct from their predecessors first in this important way. They focused more on family life and reflection upon God and upon their values; the atmosphere of political resistance and theological argumentation in which their movement was born was not as present in the new world. Historians and politicians such as Bradford would continue to write histories and non-fiction works, but poetry and diaries opened the door to significantly more creative works of literature. Writers such as Bradstreet shifted to more everyday themes in their work.

The more social and familial nature of New England Puritan literature is illustrated well in the works of Anne Bradstreet. Her poem “To My Dear and Loving Husband.” Bradstreet describes the love she has for her husband, saying that “[her] love is such that Rivers cannot quench.”x She is dealing with subjects that would rarely have been touched upon in the political writings of men like Bradford.

Though the power of the Monarchy in religion and over their lives had been a driving factor of the Puritan exodus from England, as they settled into the life in New England, distance and disinterest widened the gap between the Puritans and their former oppressors. People like Bradstreet wrote diaries which formed the basis for a new, very different kind of literature.

Puritan Ministers and writers would develop more consistent forms of argumentation and preaching as their sermons and teaching changed form.xi The Presbyterian Episcopal model was largely abandoned without connections to the wider church, and Congregational ministers played an invaluable role in the growth of further literature.

Men like Jonathan Edwards, a much later Puritan minister, served to stir up the religious fervor of the Puritans and New England Congregationalists through sermons. His sermon “Sinners in the Hands of and Angry God” was an important changing point in Puritan literature in that it introduced a much more aggressive and persuasive form of writing and speaking.

There is no want of power in God to cast wicked men into hell at any moment. Men’s hands cannot be strong when God rises up. The strongest have no power to resist him, nor can any deliver out of his hands. — He is not only able to cast wicked men into hell, but he can most easily do it.xii

This excerpt from the sermon shows the new, much darker tone taken by Puritan ministers during the 18th century. This further shift away from the somber, factual works of the English Puritans drove the First Great Awakening and stirred many New England Puritans back to their faith.
This later Puritan work would again take up the fiery style of the earlier writers as religious fervor became more important in New England during the 18th century. The early part of the 1700’s was a period of absolutism for the Puritans which had been characteristic of New England Puritans from the beginning. Dealing in moral and metaphysical absolutes was another clear shift away from earlier English Puritan works.xiii

The descendents of the Puritans would also rekindle their older, more political spirit during the Revolutionary War. People such as John Adams and other major players in the Enlightenment and Revolution in New England were descended from Puritan families. These men were profoundly influenced by the culture of New England and its focus on the Congregational Church and on traditional values. In his letters to his wife Abigail, John Adams uses the style of post-Puritan writing.

Had a Declaration of Independency been made seven Months ago, it would have been attended with many great and glorious Effects . . . . We might before this Hour, have formed Alliances with foreign States. — We should have mastered Quebec and been in Possession of Canada.xiv

Adams clearly has no specific religious motivation in his writing, but the return to writing of a more political nature among the genetic descendants of the Puritans shows an interesting contrast between purely English writing and purely American writing with the Puritans as the bridge between them.

Despite many social changes in later decades and centuries that would again alter New England, in their time the early American Puritans became distinct in the apolitical, and often less factual, nature of their poetry and writings. They maintained plain-style, but they also worked outside of the traditional confines of official documents, histories, theological texts, and sermons.

These changes developed the way that people interacted at a religious and social level because they fundamentally altered the way that people wrote and described the world around them. People’s conception of things of the changes that coming to the new world had on the literary character of the Puritans. Diary and sermon centered literature like that of the Puritans changes depending entirely upon the way that people think individually. The lack of fiction means that what is written down is clear and means exactly what it says.xv

Bradstreet and others would write what they were moved to write, and they would change the face of the English literary heritage by changing it into a newer form of literature and writing. This was essential to the development of American culture as we know it today. Without the major breaks with English style literature shown during the Puritan era, we would almost certainly see literature in a much less inspired and creative way.

One of the most important aspects of Puritan literature was that New England, being populated by middle-class families of farmers, had access to a much larger literary heritage than the other colonies prior to the revolution. New Englanders, especially those in Massachusetts, had a much higher standard of living than those in Virginia or other colonies. This allowed the time and energy needed to be devoted to literary endeavors.

Puritans are so prominent during the crossover period between British and American literature because they produced far more in terms of creative literature than those in the south. When the changes toward creativity and poetry were developing in the north, southerners were forced to write almost exclusively for technical or political reasons. The literary culture of the Puritans took much longer to take root in the non-Puritan colonies.xvi

The economic and social advantages New England had over the poorer, less accessible south allowed the Puritans to bring more than just English government and technology to the New World, but also to bring the culture. They introduced English literature where others couldn’t, despite their colony being founded significantly later.xvii

Because of a combination of their preexisting literary traditions, such as plain style, and their economic advantages, the Puritans were able to pioneer a new way of writing within a Calvinist perspective. They also transitioned between British and American literature by changing older literary styles. They put together literary works based on new and creative writing ideas, rather than purely political or theological subjects. They caused shift to a newer way of looking at poetry and literature in America, and the growth of Puritan literature from the rigid rules of plain style, to the beautiful poetry of Bradstreet, all the way to the enlightenment writings of Puritan descendents such as John Adams. This form of literature is exceedingly valuable within American literature, and it is part of the foundations of our national literary tradition.


i. A. F. Scott Pearson, Thomas Cartwright and Elizabethan Puritanism (Gloucester, MA: P. Smith, 1966) 359

ii. Puritanism and Predestination, Divining America. http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/eighteen/ekeyinfo/puritan.htm. (Accessed April 20, 2014)

iii. John Tulloch, English Puritanism and Its Leaders (Edinburgh: W. Blackwood, 1861) 182

iv. BC News. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/tudors/english_reformation_01.shtml (Accessed April 28, 2014)

v. Puritanism and Predestination, Divining America. http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/eighteen/ekeyinfo/puritan.htm. (Accessed April 30, 2014)

vi. James P. Stobaugh, American Literature-Student: Cultural Influences of Early to Contemporary Voices (Google Books: Self Published, 2012) 23

vii. William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation (Plymouth Colony: Bradford, 1630-1651) 78

viii. PAL: American Puritanism: A Brief Introduction http://archive.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap1/1intro.html (Accessed April 27, 2014)

ix. The Salem Covenant (MA: Salem, 1629)

x. Anne Bradstreet, “To My Dear and Loving Husband” (MassachusettsBay Colony: Bradstreet, 1678)

xi. Eugene Edmond White, Puritan Rhetoric (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 1972) 160

xii. Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (Northampton MA: Edwards, 1741)

xiii. Eugene Edmond White, Puritan Rhetoric (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 1972) 33

xiv. Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams. http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/archive/doc?id=L17760703jasecond (Accessed May 1, 2014)

xv. American Literature from Puritanism to Romanticism. http://www.northland.cc.mn.us/drake/AmLit/AmLIt–Puritanism%20to%20Romanticism.htm (Accessed May 1, 2014)

xvi. Jamestown and Plymouth: Compare and Contrast. http://www.nps.gov/jame/historyculture/jamestown-and-plymouth-compare-and-contrast.htm (Accessed May1, 2014)

xvii. Jamestown and Plymouth: Compare and Contrast. http://www.nps.gov/jame/historyculture/jamestown-and-plymouth-compare-and-contrast.htm (Accessed May1, 2014)

Works Cited

“American Literature from Puritanism to Romanticism.” American Literature from Puritanism to Romanticism. Northland College, n.d. Web. 1 May 2014. <http%3A%2F%2Fwww.northland.cc.mn.us%2Fdrake%2FAmLit%2FAmLIt–Puritanism%2520to%2520Romanticism.htm>.
BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2014. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/tudors/english_reformation_01.shtml&gt;.
Bradstreet, Anne. “To My Dear and Loving Husband.” To My Dear and Loving Husband. Virginia Commonwelath University, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2014. <http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/webtexts/Bradstreet/bradhyp.htm&gt;.
Edwards, Jonathan. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Web. 30 Apr. 2014. <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/sermons.sinners.html&gt;.
“Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams.” Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams. Massachusetts Historical Society, n.d. Web. 1 May 2014. <http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/archive/doc?id=L17760703jasecond&gt;.
“Literature.” Colonial America, 1607-1783:. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2014. <http://www2.uncp.edu/home/canada/work/allam/16071783/lit/&gt;.
“PAL: American Puritanism: A Brief Introduction.” PAL: American Puritanism: A Brief Introduction. California State University Stanislaus, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2014. <http://archive.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap1/1intro.html&gt;.
“PAL:Edward Taylor (1642?-1729).” PAL:Edward Taylor (1642?-1729). N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2014. <http://archive.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap1/taylor.html&gt;.
Pearson, A. F. Scott. Thomas Cartwright and Elizabethan Puritanism, 1535-1603. Gloucester, MA: P. Smith, 1966. Print.
“Puritanism and Predestination, Divining America, TeacherServe®, National Humanities Center.” Puritanism and Predestination, Divining America, TeacherServe®, National Humanities Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2014. <http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/eighteen/ekeyinfo/puritan.htm&gt;.
“The Salem Covenant.” Letter. 1629. MS. Salem, MA.
Stobaugh, James P. American Literature-Student: Cultural Influences of Early to Contemporary Voices. N.p.: Google, n.d. Print.
Tulloch, John. English Puritanism and Its Leaders: Cromwell, Milton, Baxter, Bunyan. Edinburgh: W. Blackwood, 1861. Print.
United States. National Park Service. “Jamestown and Plymouth: Compare and Contrast.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 16 Apr. 2014. Web. 01 May 2014. <http://www.nps.gov/jame/historyculture/jamestown-and-plymouth-compare-and-contrast.htm&gt;.
White, Eugene Edmond. Puritan Rhetoric: The Issue of Emotion in Religion. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1972. Print.
“William Bradford.” N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2014. <http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/outlines/literature-1991/authors/william-bradford.php&gt;.

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Teresa of Avila


     Saint Teresa of Avila is an individual who is quite inspiring to me for her dedication to her ideals, especially to the idea that poverty among the religious Christians was essential. Teresa’s life, like those of most saintly figures in history, was a fascinating and complex epic of ideas and attitudes within the Catholic Church, and Europe as a whole. From her early days being educated in the Augustinian tradition, to her founding of the Discalced Carmelites alongside St. John of the Cross, and her expansion of Christian Mysticism; St. Teresa epitomizes the nature of Christian belief during the Renaissance.

      Teresa of Avila was born Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada in 1515 to minor Spanish nobles of Jewish descent. Her life spanned the period during which the Protestant Reformation was at its height, and she was a major player in the Catholic “Counter-Reformation” through her works in Christian mysticism and meditation. Teresa was very religious from a young age, even attempting to go to Moorish Africa as a child in order to die a martyr. The death of her mother when Teresa was only 14 years old spurred her to a devotion to her faith far deeper than the norm, even for the time. Teresa also struggled personally to reconcile what she saw as “vanity” and “immodesty” in her lifestyle with her faith, most likely owing this way of thinking to the strict religious devotion of her father after the death of her mother.

      After her mother died, Teresa was sent to a convent of Augustinian nuns to be educated, quite a common practice of the time among the nobility who wished to see their daughters educated. While living with the Augustinians, Teresa became very sick, possibly with a severe case of malaria, enduring her suffering only with the help of mystic spiritual texts about meditation such as “Tercer abecedario espiritual,” and “Tractatus de oratione et meditatione” by the Franciscan mystics Francisco de Osuna and Saint Peter of Alcantara. These writings, among others, almost certainly guided her later work in similar areas of mysticism and spirituality. Teresa experienced religious ecstasy, despite her pain, through the use of the spiritual methods and teachings of these earlier mystics, and she believed she had reached a perfect union with God through a series of steps. She also though that the nature of sin had become clear to her through her ecstasies.

      Teresa worked with matters of spiritual growth throughout her life, writing several books about her experiences, the most famous being “The Interior Castle” which was inspired by one of her many mystical visions. Her writings dealt with the ascent of the soul through four stages of development: mental prayer, prayer of quiet, devotion of union, and ecstasy of union. These are the states she claimed to have passed through during her illness as a girl. Through this ascent, Teresa claimed to gain a keener understanding of sin and the relation of people to God. She established several important techniques for teaching this, namely the idea of spiritual growth as “watering a garden.”

      Perhaps more important than her religious experience, St. Teresa’s reforms in the Church formed the basis for the return of many orders to poverty during a period in which monetary gain had become more important than spiritual advancement for the religious orders, and they established further, lasting reforms within the church. In 1535, Teresa entered a monastery of Carmelites at Avila, and she found that the nuns had been ignoring their duties of monasticism, instead paying attention to a stream of wealthy visitors and important supporters. Teresa’s work at reforming the Carmelite order began here where she resolved to found a reformed convent of Carmelites where the Order’s rule was kept in full.

      Teresa emphasized a much stricter form of religious life which revolved around the original vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but added more severe rules such as ceremonial flagellation and discalceation, or removal of the shoes. Her first convent was founded in 1562, originally being received poorly for it’s extreme nature. She struggled with secular and religious leaders to sow the seeds of a reformed order. With the help of several powerful patrons, by 1563 she had moved to an even stricter convent and established the rules of absolute poverty and flagellation with the Papal sanction. It was in 1567 that Teresa received the right from the Carmelite general to establish new male monasteries in her new tradition and extend her rule to both men and women. With the help of SS. John of the Cross and Anthony of Jesus, Teresa established houses of the Discalced Carmelite Brethren.

      In 1576, the larger Carmelite order began a campaign of persecution against the Discalced Carmelites with the help of the Inquisition. She needed to enlist the help of the King of Spain, Phillip II, in order to the deflect the accusations made by the larger and more corrupt order of Carmelites. The order eventually survived, and it still exists today. St. Teresa died in 1582, and she was canonized by Pope Gregory XV in 1662. For her work in the areas of Christian Mysticism and meditation, Pope Paul VI named her a Doctor of the Church in 1970. She was the first woman to be given that title.

Works Cited

“CONTENTS.” HISTORY . N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014. <http://www.ocd.pcn.net/hista.htm#The&gt;.

“DEVOTIONS & PRAYERS.” : Infant of Prague. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014. <http://devotionsandprayers.blogspot.com/2009/09/infant-of-prague.html&gt;.

Rose, Jo. “Saint Teresa of Avila.” The Book of Saints. Bath, UK: Parragon, 2012. 168-69. Print.

“St. Teresa of Avila – Doctor of the Church.” – Saints & Angels. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2014. <http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=208&gt;.

“St. Teresa of Avila.” CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: St. Teresa of Jesus (Teresa of Avila). N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2014. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14515b.htm&gt;.

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