The Call by George Herbert
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
And such a Life, as killeth death.
Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joyes in love.
At the Great St Mary’s Quiet Day on 25th February, Sr Gemma Simmonds opened the day with reflections on Desire. ‘Being a follower of Jesus is not a performance related activity. God is not interested in our performance, but in our desire.’ And quoting from the ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’: ‘It is not what you are, nor what you have been, but what you want to be, that God sees.’ The season of Lent invites us to examine ourselves and to repent, which means, to turn to God. It starts on Ash Wednesday with the stark reminder that our lives are finite and that we are on a short journey in life towards a greater horizon, capable of making choices, of greater love. Reality is, that for many of us life is busy and challenging, and the last thing we need is another demand on our time. And yet, deep down, we may long for more space, more breath, more joy, more love. If that’s the case, Sr Gemma put us on a good path for our observance of Lent by encouraging us to be aware of our desire. That’s prayer – that’s what God sees in us and longs to give us.
I am writing this on 27th February, the day the church commemorates George Herbert, who, of course, was a Cambridge man. He gave up a promising career in public life to become a parish priest near Salisbury. His life was relatively short – he died aged 40. In his poems and hymns, he left behind a wonderful gift, sharing his deep desire for God which underpinned his searching, questioning and struggles. There is an honesty and boldness in his conversation with God which resonates with many in our own time. The Dean of St. John’s College, the Revd Dr Mark Oakley, has written a beautiful book, ‘My sour-sweet days’, presenting forty of George Herbert’s poems with profound reflections. An ideal Lent and Easter book for anyone who wants to follow their desire with something practical to nurture it further. In our Wednesday Lent talk on 8th March, Juliet Jackson will talk about how George Herbert’s poems have enriched her journey of faith.
At the Quiet Day we were grateful to be reminded that God’s love and desire for us is the starting place for our relationship with God. God invites, shares our lives, waits, nudges, calls, loves us into being. It is our desire for God that gives us the capacity to pray, to receive. The more we are in touch with our desire, the more we are hollowed out to receive God, the God who is breath, light, love, life. It’s the task of a lifetime, but, by the grace of God, with each Lent and Easter we may find a little more of this God in us and among us.
With my prayers for a holy Lent,