Madison and God’s Caress
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.