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
by George Herbert
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:
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.
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.
Image Credit: My own