233: William Blake Led the Way Toward Mystic Prayers Uplifting Our Homes

We have often said at ReadTheSpirit that children can lead us toward spiritual renewal, if we only listen and watch carefully. That’s why we’ve got a wonderfully diverse list of children’s books that we recommend in our ReadTheSpirit bookstore.
   On August 12, 1827, Blake died, an artist and poet unappreciated in his own lifetime. When he died at age 69, he had rarely traveled more than a short distance from London — yet his mystic imagination carried him to realms that few other artists have been able to envision.

    His famous poem, “Jerusalem,” is a timeless model of prayers to LIFT one’s home. For Blake, the title “Jerusalem” drew on complex associations, but mainly referred to his hope that, one day, humans would see a spiritual city of peace emerge. At one point in his life, Blake wrote a vast epic called “Jerusalem” — but the far more popular poem, “Jerusalem,” actually was part of a short preface Blake wrote for a poem he dedicated to the poet John Milton.
   This short “Jerusalem” poem is based on a traditional English story that Jesus once visited England. Blake uses that story to contemplate a spiritual transformation of England, if his beloved homeland truly became a place worthy of Jesus. His hope in the short poem is that his homeland could mirror the biblical vision of a peaceful new Jerusalem.

Do you feel discouraged when you think of praying for the uplifting of the people in your city? Or praying for peace in your homeland? Perhaps you think that someone like William Blake could do it, because he was, well, William Blake! But, you’re no mystic, no artist, no poet.
   Well, the truth is that Blake’s short “Jerusalem” poem was pretty much a flop in his lifetime.
   Unfortunately, this handful of lines didn’t attract a lot of attention until nearly a century later, when it became a hymn around World War I and, by the 1920s, became hugely popular in England as a patriotic ode to the purest spirit of the homeland.
   These few words from among Blake’s vast output of words also blossomed in phrases that have echoed in other works. To mention just one more coincidence this week, Blake’s poem popularized “Chariots of Fire,” which is associated with the Olympics because of the Oscar-winning 1981 movie of that title.

    If you’re eager to introduce your children to William Blake — you can do no better than “William Blake’s Inn,” an award-winning picture book published 27 years ago but still a wonderful children’s window into the poet’s mysterious world.
   And — in our Monday morning Planner newsletter (which we send out free via Email to subscribers), we also recommended “My Heart Glow,” by Emily Arnold McCully — another “children’s book” that will inspire even the adults in the family. (Each week in the Planner, we send added notes like the “Heart Glow” recommendation to newsletter subscribers. This is a good time to drop us an email and say “subscribe” to receive that newsletter. It’s free; you can cancel anytime.)

AND NOW, here’s a traditional model of prayer for one’s home:

By William Blake


And did those feet in ancient time,
   Walk upon England’s mountains green
And was the holy Lamb of God,
   On England’s pleasant pastures seen
And did the Countenance Divine,
   Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
   Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
   Bring me my Arrows of desire:
   Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold:
   Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
   Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem,
   In England’s green and pleasant Land.

(Blake, 1804)

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