Today is the commemoration of George Herbert, priest, poet, and hymnwriter, who died on this day in 1633. Here is how Herbert is described in my denomination’s worship planning material:

As a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, England, George Herbert excelled in languages and music. He went to college with the intention of becoming a priest, but his scholarship attracted the attention of King James I. Herbert served in parliament for two years. After the death of King James and at the urging of a friend, Herbert’s interest in ordained ministry was renewed. He was ordained a priest in 1630 and served the little parish of St. Andrew Bremerton until his death. He was noted for unfailing care for his parishioners, bringing the sacraments to them when they were ill, and providing food and clothing for those in need. Herbert is best remembered, however, as a writer of poems and hymns such as “Come, my way, my truth, my life.”

Reprinted from Words for Worship, copyright 2020 Augsburg Fortress

The story of Herbert’s poetry is an interesting one. This is from Philip Pfatteicher’s Festivals and Commemorations:

Herbert’s English poems were published shortly after his death by Nicholas Ferrar, to whom they had been left with the instructions that if Ferrar thought they might do good to “any dejected poor soul” he should have them published; otherwise he should burn them. Two editions of the collection, The Temple, were published before the year was out; there were thirteen editions published by 1679. The poems, called “the best collection of religious lyrics in English,” breathe a gentle freshness and grace, not without earnest wrestling with worldly ambition and a continued struggle to submit to his vocation.

Philip Pfatteicher, Festivals and Commemorations

I have shared a few of Herbert’s poems here on my blog, as part of series of “Poems, Prayers, Psalms, and Promises.” Here, for example, are the links for Trinitie Sunday, The Call, and Love III.

Today, as I remember and give thanks for George Herbert, I thought I would share another in this series, featuring his poem, Prayer (I). In this powerful poem, Herbert offers a number of images for prayer, each of them worth pondering. This is a poem to return to again and again, each time picking an image to dwell upon. What might it mean, for example, for you to look at prayer as your heart in pilgrimage – life as a journey to God, even as we live it with God? Just one of many things to ponder in this powerful poem. Here is a selection from Psalm 62 along with other scripture readings that this poem brought to mind, followed by the poem itself and a closing prayer:

Psalm 62:1-2, 5-8

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
   from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
   my fortress; I shall never be shaken.
For God alone my soul waits in silence,
   for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
   my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
   my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
   pour out your heart before him;
   God is a refuge for us.

Scripture Readings

Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known. – Jeremiah 33:3

Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:16

Devotional Poem: “Prayer (1)” by George Herbert

Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth,
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.

Closing Prayer

O God, on this day in which we remember and give thanks for your servant, George Herbert, help us to hear this tune of softness and peace, of joy, love and bliss. Help us to return to you in prayer, and be fed again with manna for our hungry souls. Help us, O God, to be steadfast in prayer, even as you are steadfast in your abundant mercy and love. Through Christ our Lord. Amen

4 thoughts on “Giving Thanks for George Herbert

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