It would be a missed opportunity to have this Daily Cup come out on Valentine’s Day and not write about love. I do not have any particularly brilliant insights into romantic love, so you’ll have to turn to the advice columns for that, but I feel that I know a little something about God’s love. There is a moment in an anthem the choir at St. Alban’s has sung several times that returns to me unbidden rather regularly. The moment is simply a word that comes near the end of a George Herbert poem as set to music by Craig Phillips in A True Hymn, and that word is “Loved”.
One of the things we know of Herbert’s life is that he was loved as a child by a vivacious and learned mother in a house filled with music and ideas, and that when he married at age 36, it was a happy union, all too soon followed by his death, at which he was surrounded by loving friends and family. Herbert often wrote of Love in his poetry, but in that context he used the word as a name for God, and his love for God was anguished. It was never enough.
The ambiguities and contradictions of love are the essence of George Herbert’s poetry. Isn’t love, after all, at times the simplest thing we do, and at many other times the most difficult? Is it ever enough? (maybe I do have some insight into romantic love after all)
At the end of Herbert’s exuberant poem A True Hymn he writes that though our words be scant and our heart
sayes, (sighing to be approved); O, could I love! And stops:
God writeth, Loved.
For all his wondering whether or not his love for God was sufficient, Herbert’s faith assured him that God’s love in return was unhesitating.
This recording is taken from an Evensong sung at St. Alban’s last year. Though not perfected in a recording studio perhaps the power of Loved will come through. 20120318_1600_Evensong_ATrueHymn
Herbert’s most well known poem is probably Love bade me welcome. (found here: http://www.bartleby.com/101/286.html). God welcomes the narrator of the poem presumably into Heaven, where a feast is offered. But the guest feels unworthy of Love’s hospitality, and the poem’s dialogue leaves the reader uncertain who is speaking one crucial line near the poem’s end. Following Love’s question of who is to blame for the guest’s feeling of shame at his unworthiness, it is unclear who then says: “My dear, then I will serve”, at which point Love invites the guest to sit down and eat. Is God serving the guest, or the guest serving God?
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and many who came to church – and maybe those who didn’t – asked for forgiveness and faced their own unworthiness of God’s love. Hear Herbert’s words then as you walk through Lent – My dear, then I will serve. And know that you are Loved.