Today in the calendar of the Anglican Communion is dedicated to remembering one of our “saints”, the 17th century poet and clergyman George Herbert. I put “saints” in quotation marks since the Anglican understanding of sainthood is somewhat different from that held by our Catholic brothers and sisters. Anglicans don’t see saints necessarily as miraculous or intercessory figures, but rather as those worthy of remembrance examples of a spiritual gift or God-directed life. The editors of the prayer book For All The Saints: Prayers and Readings For Saints’ Days, put it well:
The habit of remembering “the friends of God” has been one of the great delights of Christian people since the dawn of the Church. The reason for this is neither fancy theology nor sub-Christian superstition. It is simply that the history of God’s mighty acts of salvation is always a personal personal history. The Church believes that the divine purpose of justice, mercy, and love is revealed in the stories of particular persons. INdeed, it is through the stories of individual saints that the Almighty renews and strengthens the witness of “the holy people of God”. Thus, the Calendar of Saints is meant to jog our memories, to remind us that today or tomorrow is the heavenly birthday of someone whose faith, holy life, and witness to Christ were so great in their time that they continue to be a cause for celebration by us in our own time.” (FAS 11).
We remember and celebrate Herbert because, after much struggle and ambition, he turned his back on a life of social advancement at court to become a humble country parson, as well as an accomplished poet of Christian verse. Some of his poems have been set to music, such as “Come My Way” which lives in Ralph Vaugh Williams’ haunting setting as part of “The Call”. Here’s my favourite Herbert poem, offered today for everyone who ever felt that they weren’t good enough for God.
1Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
2 Guilty of dust and sin.
3But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
4 From my first entrance in,
5Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
6 If I lack’d anything.
7″A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
8 Love said, “You shall be he.”
9″I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
10 I cannot look on thee.”
11Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
12 “Who made the eyes but I?”
13″Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
14 Go where it doth deserve.”
15″And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
16 “My dear, then I will serve.”
17″You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
18 So I did sit and eat.
More Herbert poetry here.