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Madison and God’s Caress

October 24, 2012

I have just spent three days at the University of Wisconsin as the Sister Rose Thering fellow at the Lubar Institute for the study of the Abrahamic religions. My visit began with a tour of Madison on a bright sunny Sunday afternoon. My host had gotten hold of his parents’ BMW convertible, so we drove along the lake, or one of the lakes — Madison is on an isthmus between two lakes for those of you who, like me, did not know this — and then to the Capitol building, scene of last year’s protests. We got out here, so I could explore. I could smell the familiar smells of the midwest — the leaves, the earth, but there was all this water. How could I not have known about these lakes?

The director of the Lubar Institute is named Charles Cohen. I knew he was a distinguished historian. His name was familiar to me when he contacted me. But I could not quite remember what his specialty was. He shepherded me around during my stay and introduced me for all of my presentations. I talked about The Woman Who Named God, and then, also, Mistress Bradstreet and Puritan spirituality. Finally, on the last evening, he drove me home and asked me if I knew that his first big book was on the Puritans. Suddenly, I knew who he was. I could see his book. It was black and it was called God’s Caress and it had changed my thinking about the Puritans so irrevocably that I could still quote from it. “You are CHARLES COHEN,” I said, as though I had not known his name all along. His main point was that for Puritans the life of faith was a continuous struggle, a cycle of conversion, despair and reconversion. Not only did this idea become a cornerstone in my dissertation on Bradstreet it has shaped my thinking about the religious life ever since.

To me, the uncanny thing is that he invited me to Wisconsin for The Woman Who Named God. My job was to help facilitate conversations about the Abrahamic religions. I was not there to talk about the Puritans, although I did. He did not know about the Puritan connection and neither did I. There are no coincidences, I think.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Georgia Binnington permalink
    October 25, 2012 2:46 pm

    No Charlotte…there are no coincidences..although it does seem that way…gb

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