Saturday, November 15, 2008

Church Lock and Key

George Herbert served three years as the rector of a small Anglican church in a small out of the way village near the southern coast of England. During that three years he worked to renew the church both through his preaching and through the physical work of laying stones and putting in windows. This work of the physical building was, to him, a vital part of the ministry of Christ to his people. The building did not take precedence over teaching the word, but nor did it get set aside as merely a transitory distraction from the eternal work of saving souls. The two were linked, inseparable, and Herbert could see the one in the other.

A large set of his poems enlisted the different aspects of the architecture of the building as symbols for aspects of the Christian life and Church. But one gets the feeling that the link between the physical building and the spiritual life of God's people was something more than merely a metaphor to Herbert. The building, partially re-built, is still standing 375 years later, and is on the short list of places that I'd really like to go before I die.

Church Lock and Key

I know it is my sinne which locks Thine eares
And bindes Thy hands,
Out-crying my requests, drowning my tears,
Or else the chilnesse of my faint demands.

But as cold hands are angrie with the fire,
And mend it still,
So I do lay the want of my desire
Not on my sinnes, or coldnesse, but Thy will.

Yet heare, O God, onely for His bloud's sake,
Which pleads for me:
For though sinnes plead too, yet, like stones, they make
His bloud's sweet current much more loud to be.

The Church Floore

Mark you the floore? that square and speckled stone,
Which looks so firm and strong,

And th' other black and grave, wherewith each one
Is checker'd all along,

The gentle rising, which on either hand
Leads to the quire above,

But the sweet cement, which in one sure band
Ties the whole frame, is LOVE

Hither sometimes Sinne steals, and stains
The marble's neat and curious veins;
But all is cleansed when the marble weeps.
Sometimes Death, puffing at the doore,
Blows all the dust about the floore;
But while he thinks to spoil the room, he sweeps.

Blest be the Architect Whose art
Could build so strong in a weak heart!


Janice Thomson said...

Gosh what a fantastic piece of writing The Church Floore. So inspirational. One could look at one's home the same way acknowledging and giving thanks for the way it is built and what each part offers us.

William Michaelian said...

Doug, in addition to the fine background you’ve given here, there’s a nice little biography on Herbert in my recently acquired copy of The Centuries’ Poets, Donne to Dryden (1949, reprinted 1952):

“George Herbert (1593-1633). Brother of Lord Herbert of Cherbury, and educated at Westminster and Trinity College, Cambridge. For a while a court favourite, after the death of James I he came under the influence of Laud and Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding and was ordained. In 1630 he became Rector of Bemerton near Salisbury. The Temple is unique among Anglican devotional poetry and after his early death Izaak Walton’s Life of Herbert enhanced a reputation already secure for sanctity and poetry. Of his prose work, A Country Parson, Walton wrote that it was ‘so full of plain, prudent and useful rules, that the country parson that can spare twelvepence, and yet wants it, is scarce excusable.’”

Best wishes,


Teri said...

These are great. I prefer the first but I love the section in the second that ends: he sweeps.

Love Herbert. Thanks for keeping the olde spelling! ; )

Doug P. Baker said...

Janice and Teri,
Thanks for the notes. Yes, they are amazing in their ability to (even after 375 years) lead us into new light!

"He sweeps" is my favorite part too! It choked me up this afternoon as I typed it in.

I did update the punctuation, mostly adding in apostrophes for the possessives. Generally I also like to preserve the older spelling so long as it won't become a hindrance. Chaucer on the other hand. . .

Thanks for the bio. That does sound like a fun book to have! Yes, Walton (with the glorious first name Izaak) was a buddy of his, as was John Donne. Walton and Herbert were born in the same year, but Walton lived another fifty years after his friend died. Someday I'd like to read The Country Parson (originally titled A Priest to the Temple: The Country Parson: His Character and Rule of Holy Livfe). Even the title demonstrates the very high regard in which George Herbert held any meeting place of Christ's people. It was a temple!

Devika said...

Hi Doug!

this is serious stuff for me, will come later to read it...its of a special interest and you would know why :-))

see you soon...

Devika said...

This one, i will be copying into my personal file, Doug...

"Blest be the Architect Whose art
Could build so strong in a weak heart!"

do we bless ourselves for building all these in us as we go through life with God by our side, or do we bless all those -- good and not-so good -- for what they add to our experience...

experiences are to be given due credit, i feel..


Orianna Laun said...

I've never read those poems of Herbert's before. They are wonderful.