Morning Coffee with Jesus, Thomas Jefferson & T. S. Eliot


Open tomes piled high atop my desk signal a delight to my soul that I cannot explain.

I never go to bed without an hour or half an hour’s reading of something moral, whereon to ruminate in the intervals of sleep.

Thomas Jefferson, 1819

Before retiring for sleep, Thomas Jefferson often read extracts from the Bible, and much has been written about the “Jefferson Bible” (of which I own a quality copy in hard back). His detractors whine about his Deist ideas that led him to excise the accounts of Jesus’ miracles from his Bible. But they don’t pay any respect to his scrutiny of the Gospels, impelling him to purchase copies of the Greek New Testament, Latin Vulgate, two English translations and another in French. Cutting apart the paragraphs, he glued them side-by-side in his book so that he could study and compare the passages in his personal study.

During seminary studies four decades ago, I enjoyed studying the Synoptic Gospel parallels, and purchased a Greek edition with them placed in parallel columns. Recently I have returned to studying them as I have had time, and have received much enrichment from the time spent there. This morning, I found myself before a significant pile of opened books from which I was taking notes, and thought of something from Thoreau’s Walden that always stayed with me:

That age will be rich indeed when those relics which we call Classics, and the still older and more than classic but even less known Scriptures of the nations, shall have still further accumulated, when the Vaticans shall be filled with Vedas and Zendavestas and Bibles, with Homers and Dantes and Shakespeares, and all the centuries to come shall have successively deposited their trophies in the forum of the world. By such a pile we may hope to scale heaven at last.

Right now, I am entrenched in the texts of the early ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist. What has captivated my attention is the shock that both men made when they emerged from obscurity and delivered messages that resonated with the people in the surrounding villages. Over and over I read of the large multitudes that came from every quarter, all with this in common–they had profound needs. In a later passage when Jesus was criticized for associating with people of low quality, he responded with these words:

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.

Naturally, the crowds flocking to Jesus and John had profound needs. Those who were satisfied with their lot found no reason to leave their schedules to hear what the men had to offer. They were self-satisfied and felt no one had anything to offer them of any merit.

Our Fifty-Seventh Congress voted on May 13, 1902 to publish Jefferson’s notes, thus creating The Jefferson Bible. In 1904 a copy was distributed to each member of Congress. I dare say that if such a gift were offered to our current Congress that it would be casting pearls before swine. My sentiments about this body of elected officials sounds much like words often uttered by Mark Twain. In short, I write this: they have been given a serious responsibility to oversee the welfare of this nation, and from all that I can detect, they seem only interested in keeping their jobs, not doing them. After watching the Senate Judiciary Committee “perform” before live television recently, I concluded that they fit the description offered long ago by T. S. Eliot:

We are the hollow men

We are the stuffed men

Leaning together

Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

Our dried voices, when

We whisper together

Are quiet and meaningless

As wind in dry grass

Or rats’ feet over broken glass

In our dry cellar 

Shape without form, shade without colour,

Paralysed force, gesture without motion; 

T. S. Eliot “The Hollow Men”

I would not see any of this body of elected officials going out of their way to listen to quality words from Jesus or John the Baptist, because they apparently have all they need–an honorable occupation, along with the best benefits and health care, and no concerns about whether or not they do the right thing by the constituents who put them there.  The throngs who pursued Jesus and John long ago pursued them because they knew they were hollow men; they knew there was an emptiness in their lives that needed to be addressed. In response to this need, Jesus uttered the words as part of his Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness,; for they shall be filled.

Paul Tillich wrote of three basic anxieties that plague humanity: fear of death, fear of guilt, and fear of meaninglessness. The last of those fears seems the hardest at times to address. A life without meaning. As T. S. Eliot described: “Shape without form, shade without color, paralyzed force, gesture without motion.” Throughout my life I have worried over such a state. But no longer. I am finding lately in my reading of the Gospel narratives a whole range of encouraging words directed at anyone feeling a sense of incompleteness. Taking a page from Thomas Jefferson, I have lately decided to engage in quality reading before turning out the lights at bedtime. Sleep comes better now. And then, waking refreshed, I gladly accept the gift of morning solitude to read a little further.

The Edom Festival of the Arts begins this weekend. Since I returned from Missouri, life got much busier with organizing, packing and loading for one of the best art festivals of the year.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.



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2 Responses to “Morning Coffee with Jesus, Thomas Jefferson & T. S. Eliot”

  1. Cheryl Rose Says:

    I wish I could adequately describe the effect your writing has. It captivates you, it elevates your level of thinking, and inspires you to be a better person. Your description of our elected officials is so accurate. It is clear Christ does not guide what they do. They are obsessed with their power.

    You know we are waiting for you to compile your writings in a book. I want an autographed copy. Keep writing!


    • davidtripp Says:

      Cheryl, thank you! Things are crazy this morning as I’m taking part in some live radio broadcasts. But I wanted to stop in the midst of all this to say I read your post and am moved to tears at your kind words and encouragement. Thank you for all you do to make this world more positive and reassuring.


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