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Speaking to the Soul: Sit and Eat

Speaking to the Soul: Sit and Eat

by Sarah Brock

Today’s Readings:  For the Feast Day of George Herbert
Psalm 23; Exodus 28:29-30;
Philippians 4:4-9; Matthew 5:1-10

 

Love (III)
by George Herbert

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.1

 

The first time I heard this poem, it literally struck a chord in my soul as part of a performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams Five Mystical Songs. And ever since, I’ve discovered many layers of meaning through different periods of my life. However, these words seem to be especially poignant and haunting each year in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent.

Just a few days away, Lent is a time that I often find myself particularly burdened with a sense of sinfulness and unworthiness. My inevitable failure to keep whatever fast or spiritual practice I’ve committed to only seems to magnify my utter imperfection.  And, for someone like me with decided perfectionist tendencies, the messiness I find in myself is a heavy burden to bear. I relate all too well to the voice describing the encounter in Herbert’s poem:

“I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”

 

In just a couple of days, many of us will have messy, palm ash smeared on our foreheads with the words, ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ And, we’ll kneel to confess our brokenness and see ourselves for the mess that we are.

“Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin.”

 

But, the part of Ash Wednesday and Lent that I struggle with most, and perhaps this is true for you as well, is remembering that God meets us in our messy, smudged, brokenness. And those moments of encounter are holy. A reminder which is one of things I appreciate most about this poem from George Herbert. It is a dialogue between humanity marred by iniquity and God, the Trinity, as Love personified. Love does not leave at the mention of sin or shame, but rather draws closer, reminding humanity of who we are and whose we are- beloved children of God. Love welcomes us as we are: broken, messy, full of sin and shame, human. Love invites us to sit and eat.

But, not only is this a dialogue with the Divine, the poetic narrative moves from the past into the present. The change in tense reminds me that God welcomes us over and over again, washes us clean continually, forgives us past and present.

This is what I try to remember as I enter the holy season of Lent. As self-examination and repentance, prayer, fasting, and self-denial begin to weigh heavy on my heart and soul, I come back to this poem. Remembering that “Love bade me welcome” and I am a guest worthy to be here. Love bade you welcome and you are a guest worthy to be here.

So we do sit and eat.

 

 


Sarah Brock is a postulant in the Diocese of Massachusetts and lives in Boston.

1 http://www.bartleby.com/101/286.html

Image Credit: My own

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Jenny Landis-Steward

Water to a thirsty soul, thanks.

Dorette Perez

In humility, I definitely will accept the offer to sit and eat. How can I turn a deaf ear to such a genuine love-filled offer? …..A strong reminder that though I fall, my Father is always there, holding my hand and helping me up.

Pat Kincaid

Thank you, Sarah, for setting the table. Prepared to enter in am I.

Ann Fontaine

Another welcoming of “Love”
http://www.bartleby.com/360/6/33.html

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