Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Thursday, March 30, 2017
John Milton’s Poems on Submission
Submission: almost a dirty word, in the 21st century context. Certainly, submission smacks of knuckling under, being oppressed, or unfairly treated. However—it wasn’t always this way.
Submission is one of the spiritual disciplines Richard Foster and Emilie Griffin list, and four readings are included that give different insights into this discipline. John Milton is the first, that brilliant writer, employed in the English political sector for years. Milton has two excerpts listed here: the first written when he was 23, and the other written after he lost his eyesight in his 40’s. In both cases, he was profoundly empty, and was casting about for some meaning in his life.
Yes, the first poem written in Milton’s youth bears great hope, but also frustration. Why hasn’t God given this young man great things to do? Or, if not great, at least tasks to occupy the young Milton’s time? (He even calls God “my Great Task-Master.”) At the end of the poem, he does submit to God’s will and God’s timing—as must we all.
I may relate more to the poem of his middle age, after blindness has come upon his eyes. It certainly has a more subdued and wistful air. Milton comes to the realization that just as countless others do God’s bidding, in various ways (“thousands at his bidding speed/And post o’er land and ocean without rest.”), so does he, as he is able. “They also serve who only stand and wait.” 
Yes, the second poem touches something deep within me. By God’s mercy, I have never experienced blindness. However, I am extremely nearsighted. If it weren’t for corrective lenses, I would be in a sad situation. Unable to see more than three or four inches in front of my face, I would have a vastly different life in a different place than the western world in the 21st century.
But, that is only touching on my physical eyesight. What about doing God’s bidding? I was searching for God’s bidding, for years. Yes, I was frustrated at wandering through life, on my meandering way around the wilderness of my 20’s and 30’s. Never hearing clearly what God might be saying, even though I was searching. Avidly, doggedly. Now, since 40 and into my 50’s, it is different. Yet, I can remember and relate so well to what Milton says here. I have learned, the hard way, what it is like to submit.
Dear Lord, this excerpt brings back difficult memories to me. Frustration, fear, anger, anxiety. How I would go round and round and round again, and end up in exactly the same place. Yes, I have learned to submit. And, be patient. Lord, in Your mercy, hear the prayers of all Your children who are still wandering, still waiting, still seeking Your bidding. In Your powerful name we pray, amen.
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 Spiritual Classics, edited by Richard J. Foster and Emilie Griffin. (San Francisco, California: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000), 173.