An Eastertide meditation on love
I awoke this morning thinking of George Herbert’s poem, Love Bade Me Welcome.
God, who is Love, unconditionally welcomes Herbert.
Herbert, aware of his mortality and iniquity, resists.
Love, perceiving his hesitancy, draws closer.
Herbert, wanting to be a worthy guest, confesses he is not.
Love replies in future tense, “you shall be,” for Herbert’s sense of his present unworthiness does not…cannot prevent Love from loving.
Herbert, disbelieving for joy, counters with specificity, naming his chiefest sins, heartlessness and thanklessness, his guilt so great that he dare not behold God.
Love draws closer, taking Herbert’s hand, smiling, speaking Self-referentially that the Creator of the eye best can decide whose eyes shall see God.
Herbert presses the point, declaring his shame in misusing the gift of sight, begging to be granted what he deserves, banishment from God’s presence.
Shame, says Love, by Love, already has been embraced, embodied, and dis-empowered.
Herbert, finally, his protests overcome, accepting Love’s Servant-welcome, sits and sups with Love.
Herbert speaks to…for me.
I have known moments of painful glory when the invitation of love unconditional bade me welcome. When others embraced me without regard or reserve. Overcoming every obstacle of my native unworthiness. Overwhelming my sometimes sense of my wretchedness. Calling me to enter the liberty of acceptance of loving myself just as I am. Though never a constant state (indeed, what is?), I have known moments of being so loved that I love.
In my life’s labor as a pastor, I also know that not everyone has had moments, repeated or even a few, when love bade them welcome.
In welcoming them, being with them, listening to them, grieving with them, accepting them, loving them, I pray that they, too, can…will know this painful glory.
© 2023 PRA
Illustration: George Herbert (1593-1633); portrait (1674) by Robert White (1645-1703)
 George Herbert (1593-1633), Welsh-born Anglican priest, orator, and poet.
 From The Temple: Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations (published posthumously, 1633)
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back, Guiltie of dust and sinne.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack from my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning if I lack’d any thing.
A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here: Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkinde, ungratefull? Ah, my deare, I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame? My deare, then I will serve.
You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat: So, I did sit and eat.
2 thoughts on “Painful Glory”
Upon reading this, Paul, these words, which I know are very familiar also to you, I heard immediately in my ear:
“Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.”
Thank you for sharing Herbert’s beautiful old poem today. I needed to read it again, and it has been many, many years since I have had reason to encounter it. It’s a far gentler poem than Thompson’s, and I deeply believe we all need a great deal of gentleness right now.
Have a blessed afternoon, dear friend.
Ah, my beloved sister Karen, yes, gentleness — in these seemingly interminably harsh times of division and demonization on every side, from every corner — is most needed! And, yes, Herbert speaks with the whispered calling that Thompson’s “Hound” does not. Tho’ each sharing the same enabling, ennobling word of the Divine Love’s constant, unconditional pursuit of us.
I love you, dearest sister, and Ted and Emilia,