Woefully Arrayed

Thanks to The Atlantic, I’m in the middle of reading the book From the Hook of Holland to the Horn of Constantinople. When the author was in his late teens in the early 30s, he decided on a whim to walk across Europe and this is his memoir.

At one point, moved by religious art from the years leading up to the Reformation, he quotes a poem from a man named John Skelton who lived and wrote in the same period. Here is the poem:

Woefully arrayed,
my blood ran,
for thee, man,
it can not be nayed.
My body, blue and wan,
woefully arrayed.

It came to me strongly that I spent too much time pondering the meaning, extent, and necessity of the Atonement and not enough time at the foot of the cross.

Pondering has its place–although it tends to alienate us from the subject of our pondering it can also give us a richer understanding that, once assimilated and internalized, allows us a richer relationship with the subject; and it can breathe fresh life into relations that have grown stale. But we would do better ofttimes to simply “believe in Christ, and view his death, and suffer his cross and bear the shame of the world.â€?

29 comments for “Woefully Arrayed

  1. This reminds me of a story I heard once. Three men died at about the same time and found themselves waiting on a bench outside an office, to be called in for an entrance interview for heaven. A secretary called the first into the office, where a man in a suit had him sit down. “What do you know about Jesus Christ?” he asked the man. The man replied, “He was this great guy who lived a long time ago and taught everyone to be peaceful.” The man in the suit gave him a paper with his new address in heaven, shook his hand, and sent him on.

    The second man was then called into the office. “What do you know about Jesus Christ?” the man in the suit asked the second man. The man replied, “He died for our sins on the cross and made it possible for us to live again.” The man in the suit gave him his assignment, congratulated him, and sent him on.

    The third man was called into the office too, but as soon as he saw the man in the suit he recognized him. He immediately bowed down and said “My Lord Jesus Christ!”

  2. Is this a jab at the “idle philosopher?” A statement that only by suffering in, and dealing with the world can we come to know Christ?

  3. I don’t know, Adam, I think they might be the same thing. Or a different way of approaching the cross.

    I’ve had to intellectualize a lot of things re the atonement because I don’t understand emotionally what the Savior did and how it applies to me.

    I remember asking God to take my pain. I guess He didn’t, maybe I really didn’t want to let it go. I feel guilty that Jesus suffered because of my bad behavior. And perhaps there’s a certain comfort in that overwhelming flood of anguish that comes upon me unannounced. I deserve it, as it were. And while I still feel sorrow, I’m not forgetting. And I’m afraid to be happy, to forget.

    Does that make sense? I think pondering can also be prayer.

  4. annegb: I think pondering can also be prayer.

    I think this is an important claim, though it doesn’t undo the point of Adam’s post. Too often I find myself willing to think about rather than to worship.

  5. Great post Adam! Thanks for the reminder. The next line in Skelton’s poem is interesting in the context of your post:

    Behold me, I pray thee, with all thy whole reason,
    And be not so hard-hearted…

    It reminds me of a sentiment from Tennyson:

    Let knowledge grow from more to more,
    But more of reverence in us dwell;
    That mind and soul, according well,
    May make one music as before,
    But vaster…

    I think both emphasize your point of “beholding” being distinct from–and often inappropriately neglected in preference for–pondering, even though pondering, “once assimilated and internalized, allows us a richer relationship with the subject.”

    Thus naked am I nailed, O man, for thy sake!
    I love thee, then love me; why sleepest thou? awake!

    Thanks for introducing me to the poem; thanks for the insight; thanks for the reminder to “awake and arouse [all my] faculties” and not just my cogitations.

  6. Wonderful, Edje. The links were thoughtfully provided.

    Silus Grok, the author is Patrick Leigh Fermor. The first volume is A Time of Gifts and the second volume is Between the Woods and the Water.

  7. The passage that you quote from Jacob is one of the more medieval sounding ones in the Book of Mormon. It is also one of the more baffling ones. What on earth can Jacob mean? The doctrine of our church (his and ours?) is that Christ suffered the penalty for our sins so that we don’t have to. Even when we discover our own Gethsemane, it pertains to our own sins and not to the world’s–there is no scenario of justice or mercy in which we should feel the shame of the sins of others, much less the sins of the world. After all, we believe that men will be punished for their own sins.

  8. Dave,

    You’re arguing against a straw-Jacob, or at least, an argument that’s not made by either Jacob or Adam.

    Congratulations, you win that argument! (See how easy it is to win arguments? Just pick something that no one’s actually saying, and attack it!)

  9. Adam,

    You remind us of your own status as the most Catholic of the group. (Though if she hadn’t spent so much time around New England protestants, I wonder if Melissa — she of the supererogatory acts — might not challenge for that title).

    As Mormons, we don’t talk much about crosses. Sometimes, I wonder if that’s unfortunate. I like reading your posts, and I think they’re a good reminder of a facet of Christian experience that we can use to bolster our own spirituality.

    (And thus I reveal my own Unitarian biases, I suppose – that each individual should draw from the best of the many different religious traditions, in order to advance in her own spiritual journey. We’re really a hopeless ecumenical mess around here, aren’t we?)

  10. Since Catholic means ‘universal,’ between the two of us we make a fine UU congregation!

    No, to an extent I think Mormons are often ‘Unitarian’ in something of the sense you mean it. If it weren’t for the 13th Article of Faith I wouldn’t have been so comfortable learning from old Anglicanism and Catholicism.

  11. Kaimi, you seem to have found an argument in my comment when I offered none. Don’t worry, I’ve often contended that my comments get misread (by you and by others). I’d be remiss not to take advantage of such a glaring mis-reading by offering you some further instruction. So here’s the way you should read my comment:

    “Dave doesn’t like the sound of this scripture in Jacob, he asks what it means, and then he tries to clarify why he finds it baffling.”

    I’ll leave it to you to determine what you think the appropriate response to my comment might be when it’s given such a reading.

  12. DKL,

    Are you reading this as Jacob saying that we bear the guilt for the sins of the world? It looks to me more like he is saying that we must put up with the persecution the world heaps on followers of Christ. In that light, here is the other shame/world reference in the scriptures, also by Jacob:

    “But, behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever.”

  13. P.S. Is that the appropriate response?

    Can I have a prize? Maybe a stuffed dolphin like they give out at fairs to kids who only get one ring in the barrel?

  14. Adam, I like your revision of Skelton’s Woefully Arrayed better than the original, which reads:

    Woefully arrayed,
    My blood, man,
    For thee ran,
    It may not be nay’d:
    My body blo and wan,
    Woefully arrayed.

    By contrast, you wrote

    Woefully arrayed,
    my blood ran,
    for thee, man,
    it can not be nayed.
    My body, blue and wan,
    woefully arrayed.

    Yours works much better, in my opinion. Was that intentional?

  15. And I also like the following from the poem, which also supports your post:

    Of sharp thorn I have worn a crown on my head,
    So pained, so strained, so rueful, so red,
    Thus bobbed, thus robbed, thus for thy love dead,
    Unfeigned I deigned my blood for to shed:
    My feet and handes sore
    The sturdy nailes bore:
    What might I suffer more
    Than I have done, O man, for thee?
    Come when thou list, welcome to me,
    Woefully arrayed.

  16. I’m with john f. on wondering if (and why) you (or Fermor) modified the text.

    I’m divided on how much of an improvement it makes. I like the original’s interruption of “my blood ran” with “man, / for thee,” because I think it pushes the “confrontation” more arrestingly to the fore. On the other hand I think “can not” for “may not” is a stronger meaning and loses the assonance (which I find distracting).

    In other news: your post also reminds me of hymn 185, “Reverently and Meekly Now,” by Joseph L. Townsend:

    Rev’rently and meekly now, Let thy head most humbly bow.
    Think of me, thou ransomed one; Think what I for thee have done.
    With my blood that dripped like rain, Sweat in agony of pain,
    With my body on the tree I have ransomed even thee.

  17. Frank, yes, that’s basically how I read it. I see it as a reference to something akin to original sin. Even in the citation that you provide talks in those terms; it says, “they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel… and despised the shame of [the world]…” It seems a stretch to say that they despise the persecution that is heaped on them. The idea that they despise the evil and the sins of the world fits the context much better. How exactly do you think that it works within the context?

    And yes, Frank, your response struck me as completely appropriate. As your prize, you’ll receive free access to the customizable bloggernacle aggregator at http://www.ldselect.org.

  18. DKL,

    Why in the world would I want a bloggernacle alligator?

    I think my reading has two benefits:

    1. It does not leave me confused and troubled as your interpretation leaves you.

    2. It is more in harmony with the usage in 2nd Nephi 9. One endures the cross of the world _and_ despises its shame. I despise the persection I receive, so I don’t see that as odd at all. And it fits very naturally with enduring the cross of the world as a symbol of the persecution suffered by the saints due to their sainthood (which is exactly what the cross was).

  19. Thanks for the poem. It reminded me a little of a poem published years ago in the Ensign, back when they used to have poetry there:

    Edward Taylor (c. 1642-1729)
    by Rosemary Roberts Petty

    I wanted to skip over
    Your Verses
    Because they were
    Religious and
    Full of Conceits,
    Phrases Archaic,
    Rhymes Contrived,
    Wordy Puns,
    Farfetched Imagery.

    I turned back to read again,
    and again the pages flipped forward;
    but a third time, disciplined, my eyes read
    and my mind took in your thoughts.

    Dissenter Parson,
    Your knowledge of your God
    Was so much less than mine
    Yet how much more
    You loved him!

    (Ensign, April 1977, p. 23)

  20. Adam G, are there any particular sources you’d recommend for one wanting to learn from Catholicism? (Or just wanting a deeper understanding of the Passion, from any source?)

    We should have more threads like this. :)

  21. Adam, I like your revision of Skelton’s Woefully Arrayed better than the original
    Yours works much better, in my opinion. Was that intentional?

    No, I was working from memory. I’m with Edje in liking the original arrangment of ‘man’ and ‘ran’ but preferring ‘can’ to ‘may,’ especially because in modern English ‘cannot’ suggests that it is impossible while ‘may not’ suggests it is forbidden.

  22. A lovely poem, Ross G. I’ve been thinking of subscribing to BYU Studies just for the occasional poem.


    I have a hard time advising you. I came to an interest in Catholicism and Old Anglicanism through Anglo-Catholic writing–Waugh, Chesterton, Flannery O’Connor, Graham Greene, Lewis, Tolkien, Newman, and so forth. I started thinking about the Passion when I was laid waste by a poem written in early WWII that started something like ‘1939 nails in the cross.’ I have been unable to find it since. I’ve read a few encyclicals, but most of my exposure has been casual–going to Notre Dame, reading First Things and National Review, religious art, Holy Week in Spain, some poetry.

    The most fruitful devotional stuff in Anglo-Catholicism, for me, is writing on the Passion and on the meaning of the Incarnation (start with Chesterton, he has accessible writing. Lewis too). We don’t share the Catholic theology of the Incarnation but the meaning they ascribe to it has only been enhanced when I’ve realized that for Mormons every person is an incarnation in a sense.

  23. DKL,
    I’ll have to think about it more, but I think you are not entirely off. There is a sense in which Jacob is referring to pain at the sins of the world and pain at one’s own fallenness.

  24. Adam G: “I started thinking about the Passion when I was laid waste by a poem written in early WWII that started something like ‘1939 nails in the cross.’ I have been unable to find it since.

    Could this have been “Still Falls the Rain (The Raids, 1940, Night and Dawn)” by Edith Sitwell?

    Still falls the Rain–
    Dark as the world of man, black as our loss–
    Blind as the nineteen hundred and forty nails
    Upon the Cross.

  25. Frank, fair enough. Honestly, I’m not terribly fond of the Book of Jacob as a whole. It tends to read like it was written by someone who is somewhat exhausted (with life, not for the moment) and who is writing late at night so that everything seems just that much more melodramatic.

    Adam, thanks for being candid. I’m curious to hear what comes of your additional thinking on the matter.

  26. Regarding “believe in Christ, and view his death, and suffer his cross and bear the shame of the world” (Jac 1:8). Maybe this is a call for us to become more like Christ, to follow him in deeds as well as in faith. Note the similarity in wording in Alma’s baptismal challenge, which calls us to begin to step into the same actions Jacob cites by Christ:

    “are willing to bear one another’s burdens [cf “shame of the world”], that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort and to stand as witnesses of God [cf “believe in Christ”] at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death [cf “his death” in Jacob], that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal [Christlike] life” (Msh 18:8-9)

    As others helped me though my repentance, they helped bear my shame. They mourned with me about my deserved burdens and made them lighter. They comforted me, who greatly stood in need of their comfort. This caused them anguish both for me and in understanding how I’d hurt other people they knew and loved. They weren’t required to do this but their love for God, and eventually for me, led them to it.

    I believe that the gospel’s core message isn’t so much that we won’t suffer for our sins — the soul’s changes of repentance depend upon us so suffering — nor that justice means we won’t be *compelled* to suffer for the sins of others. Rather, the love we are called to develop for others means that mercy impels us to *give* ourselves to mourn with them and to lighten their burdens by taking such of them as we are able upon ourselves.

    “When we are willing to restore to others that which we have not taken, or heal wounds that we did not inflict, or pay a debt that we did not incur, we are emulating His part in the Atonement” (Boyd K. Packer, GenCon 10/1995)

  27. Manaen,

    I think you are right.


    That must have been it. Frankly you quoted the only good part of the poem. And I can never remember whether Edith Sitwell was the fascist Sitwell or not.

Comments are closed.