RUMSPRINGA AND A-MAYING

GARY W. SUMMERS

   

More than three hundred years ago "churchman" Robert Herrick (one of the Cavalier poets) wrote "Corinna's Going A-Maying," in which a young girl is encouraged to participate in the pagan celebration of spring. The first stanza consists of Nature calling the young maiden, along with the unshorn god of the sun, Apollo, and the goddess of the dawn, Aurora.

Get up, get up for shame, the blooming morn
Upon her wings presents the god unshorn.
See how Aurora throws her fair
Fresh-quilted colors through the air:
Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see
The dew bespangling herb and tree.
Each flower has wept, and bowed toward the east,
Above an hour since; yet you not dressed,
Nay! not so much as out of bed?
When all the birds have matins said,
And sung their thankful hymns, 'tis sin,
Nay, profanation to keep in,
When as a thousand virgins on this day
Spring, sooner than the lark, to fetch in May.

The message here is clearly that Nature has come alive and is calling for all to come participate in its annual resurrection. This event is celebrated each May 1st. Although it is mostly a pagan concept, the author uses religious terminology and images to communicate (perhaps to "sanctify"?) the day's activities. The birds have prayed and sung hymns, and it would be a "sin" to linger behind and not bring a healthy enthusiasm to the merriment. This call, however, is only the beginning; next comes a plea to become part of Nature.

Rise, and put on your foliage, and be seen
To come forth, like the springtime, fresh and green,
And sweet as Flora. Take no care
For jewels for your gown or hair:
Fear not; the leaves will strew
Gems in abundance upon you.

These first six lines of the second stanza are sufficient to convey the idea that the individual is to become one with Nature; even her clothing is described as foliage. The idea is amplified in the next stanza to include the whole world (the city and houses and even man-made things) being subsumed in Nature. Maintaining the imagery still, Herrick goes on to refer to the ark and the tabernacle as if to say that Nature is Religion and vice versa. The third stanza closes thus:

Can such delights be in the street
And open fields, and we not see't?
Come, well abroad; and let's obey
The proclamation made for May,
And sin no more, as we have done by staying;
But my Corinna, come, let's go a-Maying.

At this point Nature is not only inviting; it is demanding! But Christianity is being set on its ear by one who is supposed to uphold Biblical principles. The celebration of Mayday was characterized by lustful and exuberant activities; yet it is a sin NOT to participate in them? What happened to abstaining from lascivious behavior? What happened to fleeing fornication? Is Nature (the thing created by God) to be elevated above Him who created it?

The next argument, used in the fourth stanza, to entice Corinna is the "everybody's doing it" ploy.

There's not a budding boy or girl this day
But is got up, and gone to bring in May.

Not only are all frolicking to their heart's delight, most of them are way ahead of Corinna.

And some have wept, and wooed, and plighted troth,
And chose their priest, ere we can cast off sloth.
Many a green-gown have been given;
Many a kiss, both odd and even;
Many a glance too has been sent
From out the eye, love's firmament;
Many a jest told of the keys betraying
This night, and locks picked, yet we're not a-Maying.

These descriptions are romantic and sexual, and some of the participants have decided upon marriage--but only some--not all. One might wonder where that leaves many of the young women, who have now been deflowered while enthralled by the spirit of the day? When people choose to sin, they seldom give any thought to the future.

The final section of this carpe diem poem contradicts the Scriptures taught by Paul. Immorality was characteristic of the city of Corinth, and some brethren apparently argued that, since God created us as sexual beings, why should we not enjoy such pleasures (outside of marriage)? Their argument was "Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods" (1 Cor. 6:13). Paul answers: "Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body."

Besides ignoring that point, Herrick further perverts a Biblical principle to use in his favor. The Bible teaches us to use time wisely. Moses wrote: "So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Ps. 90:12). Paul commanded: "See that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Eph. 5:15-16).

But James is the one who advised people to take God into consideration when they make plans: "whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away" (James 4:14). In light of all these verses, we want to be certain that we use our time wisely and effectively in reading the Bible, worshipping Him properly, and in leading others to Christ.

But Herrick turns this Biblical admonition upside down also and urges that, because time is short and uncertain, we need to enjoy ourselves now. As the Grass Roots sang back in 1967, "Let's live for today--and don't worry 'bout tomorrow." This is the point of these final lines.

Come, let us go, while we are in our prime,
And take the harmless folly of the time.
We shall grow old apace, and die
Before we know our liberty.
Our life is short; and our days run
As fast away as does the sun;
And as a vapor, or a drop of rain
Once lost, can ne'er be found again,
So when or you or I are made,
A fable, song, or fleeting shade,
All love, all liking, all delight
Lies drowned with us in endless night.
Then while time serves, and we are but decaying,
Come, my Corinna, Come, let's go a-Maying."

Although Herrick wrote religious verse, the religion of this poem is not Christianity. The author advocates paganism from beginning to end. Mayday is natural, vibrant, joyous, sexual--an affirmation of life. How can the man in the poem who is trying to persuade Corinna possibly call the activities of that day "harmless folly"? On the other hand, what could the youth be expected to say: "C'mon, Corinna, let's go out and indulge ourselves sexually, and maybe you'll get pregnant"?

The devil never wants people to consider the results of their sinful behavior in advance. How many would then be enticed to sin? He suggests such words as enjoyment, pleasure, fulfillment, excitement, freedom--and the concept that we are missing something and owe it to ourselves to find out what (usually misery). This poem does not consider any evil side effects of the Mayday celebration, such as guilt, shame, or pregnancy. It is portrayed as harmless folly and possibly a step toward marriage.

How could Herrick write a poem so contradictory to the message of the Scriptures? Perhaps he was infatuated with the vitality of the day itself. Nothing suggests that he found any fault with it. Perhaps it was the idea that, since it was only one day a year, even those who were usually prim and proper could indulge on this one occasion. It is not unusual for those who demand strict adherence to religious principles to also observe some practice as an outlet for sin to reign briefly. Is not the purpose of Mardi Gras to have the opportunity to sin before the season of Lent (which represents piety and sacrifice) begins?

The problem with this philosophy, whether observed by the English or the French, is that it really originates with Satan, the author of all sin. What does he care if someone is earnestly devoted to God most of the time, so long as he gets his day of devotion? In one hour's time sinful behavior can undermine the good example built up over a lifetime. Paul did not mention a day of exception for sexual purity. Jesus would not have been qualified as our Savior if he had taken a few days out of His life to indulge Himself. Such a notion is preposterous!

Amish Paradise?

Believe it or not, the Amish have a sort of extended Mayday, which they call rumspringa, which, according to The Dallas Morning News, means "running around." A documentary about this custom, titled Devil's Playground, aired last May (how appropriate) 30th, the same day the article was printed (all quotations are from 29A).

Manual Mendoza assessed the practice in his article, which was titled, "Wild On...Amish Country." His description of rumspringa is:

Tasting sin is part of the road to salvation for the members of the 300-year-old Christian sect [which began after Herrick's poem was penned, gws]. Adherents believe their children must decide for themselves whether to join the strict, tradition-bound church. One of those traditions is an official period of temptation that begins at age 16.

...the kids are allowed, encouraged even, to go to the mall and the movies, to bowl and watch TV, to get haircuts and get drunk--behavior that becomes off-limits once they commit to the Amish lifestyle.

What is described above is bad enough, but also permitted are the use of drugs and sexual experimentation. The documentary dealt with several Amish teens in LaGrange County, Indiana--one of whom was a crystal-methamphetamine user. How any religious group could justify such a practice is mind-boggling--especially as it relates to those who are sixteen, which in most instances means that they probably lack the maturity to make such decisions.

If anything, young people need all the encouragement they can receive to prevent them from making mistakes at this time in their lives. What happens to those who get drunk and harm someone else (or must they drink in a controlled environment)? What happens to those who get hooked on drugs? Do any of the young girls have children, or are they supplied with birth control pills (which are anything but foolproof)? Are the guys allowed to beat somebody up? What about gambling? Is theft all right--or the destruction of someone's property? Precisely what sins are allowed, and are there any that are still forbidden--and on what basis?

It is hard to imagine any doctrine more dangerous to young people. Mendoza pointed that fact out as he comments that no adult in the documentary "ever adequately defends" rumspringa. The drug user (and dealer) in the documentary likened the practice to a vaccination. "You get a little dose of the outside world--just enough so you won't get tempted later on. And you'll be a happy Amish person." Such may be the theory, but it is unlikely the reality.

In the first place, having a dose of sin may not satisfy a person at all. There are some things that are better not to know. Those who become addicted to anything must constantly battle the urge to return to it, whether it be nicotine, alcohol, or other drugs. Or there might be that young lover that one can never truly eradicate from the mind. For a lifetime some may be calling up pleasant memories—of sinful actions!

Do people not have enough sin that they need to go out and experience more? At sixteen years of age, young people need to be encouraged to be pure and chaste rather than sinful. How much respect can young people have for those who encourage them to do wrong? What do they do about having a guilty conscience? What do they do about experiencing shame?

Allowing this kind of behavior for young people violates numerous Biblical principles and is at odds with the good examples provided for us. Should the young Joseph have considered the advances of Potiphar's wife as an opportunity for Rumspringa or a Mayday flight of fancy (Gen. 39)? Should Daniel have eaten forbidden food as part of an experiment with sin (Dan. 1)? These young men have inspired youths in all ages. The one who resists sin, not the one who gives in to it, is admirable.

What about, "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life" (Pr. 4:23)? Nowhere does the Bible advocate letting down one’s guard. In fact, all who would be pleasing to God are to be sober and vigilant, on the watch for our adversary the devil, who walks about "like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8).

Paul wrote: "But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not once be named among you, as is fitting for saints" (Eph. 5:3, emph. gws). Anyone who operates by the Amish philosophy could have something said about them once, at least.

John did not write that we should: "Test all of the things in the world, to see if you love them." He wrote: "Do not love the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15-17). How can parents encourage their children to hate God and to disobey Him?

Young people do have a decision to make. They do need their own faith, but rumspringa is not the way to obtain it. Being made aware of what sin is and how it operates is not the same as becoming involved in it. We can observe how sin has ruined the lives of others; there is no want of examples. But what Christian parents need to do is to set a good example and provide the rationale for clinging to God and abstaining from sin. With the best of help, some will not survive; surely, young people do not need a push in the wrong direction.

*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "RUMSPRINGA AND A-MAYING" (01/19/03)."


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