Over the years I have not bought much in the way of poetic literature. I once bought a collection of love poems I thought would be an ideal romantic contemplation.
Now, years later, and through a Christian reading group, I am starting to rediscover the allure of poetry but as a means of connecting us through words to God, of seeing beauty and reality, of words used to give us an understanding of that which we would not get any other way.
Flicking through our current book ‘The Splash of Words’ by Mark Oakley I came across the poem Love III by a man I had not heard of before called George Herbert. Its ethereal beauty captivated me and I was drawn in by the familiar wrestle between the self and God.
Love (III) George Herbert (1593-1633)
Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
The beauty of this poem is for me totally captivating. The theme is one I can connect with on a personal level and after sharing my own thoughts in the reading group, I thought it worthwhile to share here.
For me its quality is opened immediately by the identification of God as Love. ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8 and 16). This substitution removes the personification of God, the boundaries of His identity erased by provoking the sublime nature of love. It at once frees our minds of worldly concepts, to which we so often attach our own baggage and project on to His identity. We love food, we love comfort, we love experiences. We confuse love with admiration as well as desire. But in the poem we feel Love as gentle, kind, patient, and inviting.
We are welcomed in by Love, but the author, as do I, struggles to believe that he is worthy. After all, who am I? Such questions seem humble but are in fact falling back to the self and not trusting in the goodness of God. Then I can tell myself, okay so God loves me, but He loves everyone, so why would anyone think me special enough to choose to love. And here I am caught depending on what I know, what has been before and not trusting in God’s plan. Erroneous thinking says okay I’ll change my mind when I see something different happen. But without believing something different is possible, then you will rarely manifest a different experience.
In order to facilitate change God wants us to believe that what does not seem possible to us, something that we have no experience of, is possible with Him on our side (Mark 9:23). The fear of what we do not know, the fear of the future boils down to a problem of faith, and an absence of love somewhere in our hearts. Because hate is not the opposite of love, but fear is. Wherever there is a lack of love then fear is always to be found.
The poetic conversation reminds me of God’s conversation with Adam.
‘But the LORD God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’’ Genesis 3:9 NIV.
God’s question puzzled me, why did He ask a question that He knows the answer to? Then it struck me that God is longing for us to be in relationship with Him and He is continually inviting us as George Herbert puts it ‘sweetly questioning’.
Adam, in his shame, is hiding in a similar way to a young child who will cover his or her face and think that they can no longer be seen. With a little thought we soon realise that wherever we are God sees us, He knows us, ‘Who made your eyes but I?’
Our weaknesses, our shadows, are a part of us that God knows. Someone once said that Christianity is not like a 12-step action plan to self-improvement. How true! The journey is a process on which we must learn to love our idiosyncrasies, our imperfections, to accept ourselves and each other just as we are.
Though we may admire a person’s strengths like their musical ability or confidence speaking, it is our needs that others fall in love with. People love what they are able to give. If a person does not know what we need, then they do not know how to love us.
The poem draws to a close with the beautiful exchanges between God and the author cut abruptly to the reality of His sacrifice at the cross. At the suffering of Jesus. The word ‘meat’ standing out so vividly in the text. The author gives up his inner protests and submits immediately to God’s will.
During our current Lenten journey, we too can reflect on the parts of our lives where we do not accept what Jesus did for us on the cross, instead depending on ourselves for a food that does not satisfy. Many of the problems we face on our Christian journey stem from the difference between knowing a thing and having it deeply within our hearts. His death, His suffering was from the depths of His love for us. He died so that we may live. Before we were born, He thought we were worth it.
Loving Father. Thank You for Jesus and thank You for the gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Guide us Father on our journey with You. Help us not to depend on our own resources but to always seek You. Lord help us to strengthen our relationship with You, being open and honest, seeking Your forgiveness, grace and mercy for all our iniquities. In Jesus name. Amen.