How did D H Lawrence, the famous author of novels Women in Love and Lady Chatterley’s Lover, come to live in a homesteader’s cabin in the hills outside of Taos, New Mexico? In 1921 Lawrence and his wife Frieda had received an invitation from Mrs Mabel Dodge Luhan, a wealthy New York socialite and arts patron, to establish an artists’ colony in Taos. Lawrence accepted, and the couple left Europe for the USA, taking a route via Australia, before landing at San Francisco penniless. Graciously, Mrs Luhan funded the last leg of the journey, and the Lawrences arrived at Taos in September 1922.
Their accommodation in the hills outside of Taos was primitive, to say the least, – the cabins had dirt floors and Lawrence spent some time, with the help of three local Pueblo Indians, repairing the buildings, adding new roofs and rebuilding the chimneys. At one point during the renovations Lawrence covered his hand with a handkerchief and drove out the rats from the chimney.
After spending a cold winter there Frieda left for Europe, followed by Lawrence shortly afterwards. Two years later they returned, this time accompanied by a friend, the artist Lady Dorothy Brett, who would type Lawrence’s manuscripts in her small, monastic cabin. Lawrence, who never stayed in one place too long, was to spend only a total of eleven months in New Mexico. The couple left again in 1925, and Lawrence died in France in 1930. Frieda returned after Lawrence’s death and made Taos her permanent home, as did Lady Brett.
On a visit to New Mexico earlier this month, Ruth and I visited the Lawrence Ranch, as it is now called, and spent some time taking in the atmosphere of this beautiful place. We were the only visitors that day, and were welcomed by Ricardo, who now manages the ranch on behalf of the University of New Mexico. Ricardo’s cat walked with us up the short path to the memorial where Lawrence is buried, and we stopped and took some pictures. Then we went to the homestead house and sat beside the “Lawrence Tree”, a beautiful pine under which Lawrence would sit at a desk and write. The tree was later immortalized in a painting by Georgia O’Keefe. In the warm July sun, the place seemed like heaven on earth.
It may seem odd for a Christian priest to make a pilgrimage to the memorial of a pagan like Lawrence. He wrote in a time – the early twentieth century – when scientific, industrial, political and psychological developments were changing society and the way human beings understood themselves. While some benefitted from these changes, others became de-humanized by the forces of technology and the concurrent growth of communism and fascism. Lawrence resisted any “progress” which diminished the human soul. Lawrence wrote about the things closest to people’s lives – the battleground of human relationships, the potential for change and transcendence; and he advocated for the unity of the natural world – ourselves included – to the cosmos.
I read him at an impressionable age – in my twenties – and found his novels – especially The Rainbow and Women in Love – a revelation. From him I learned the importance of the wholeness of our human being – mind, body, spirit and soul. Later I was able to make a connection between Lawrence and Psalm 139:13, which says, “I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made!”
What was the point of my pilgrimage? I think it was a way of reminding myself of a connection I had to someone, even someone whom I had never met. Lawrence was no saint, but he poured his life – and the lives of others, not always flatteringly – into his art. In his own way he asserted the power of love – however messy and imperfect – to overcome the deadening influences of modern life. He remains a prophet for our age.
Blessings and peace