Thursday, June 17 2021 (Day 17)

Katie Snipes Lancaster

Psalm 17 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
Hear, O Lord, a just thing.
Listen well to my song.
Hearken to my guileless prayer.

An Opening Word
I love these opening words to Psalm 17. They give us a glimpse of a person seeking God with genuine, sincere, simple, almost childlike posture. It is unpretentious, unsophisticated, asking simply, “listen” (or “hearken” which of course means the same thing, just with a more archaic melody to it). God will be the judge. And, God sides with the innocent, or so the Psalmist hopes. The psalm goes on to ask God for refuge, for protection in the face of oppressors, for tender care while enemies attack: an impossible situation to be in, and yet a faithful response. An urgent needful cry for help is again the whole point of the psalm. It remains our most common time to turn to God: when the whole world feels upside down and we don’t know where to turn.

Our mystic for today is George Herbert, a seventeenth century poet and clergy person from the Church of England who continually searches for the divine in a manner akin to the psalms: urgently, in times of need, and with a deep, reverent sense of devotion and love.

It seems impossible to be part of Kenilworth Union without coming across George Herbert’s poem, Love (III) which begins, “Love bade me welcome.” The text of that poem has been used in worship multiple times, and both John Wesley and Ralph Vaughn Williams have set his sacred poems to music. One commentator called him a “holy heavenly soul,” and another said, “Peace, sorrow, gratitude, even giddiness dance through Herbert’s verse,” most of which was published not long after his death (he saved them all up and gave his collection of poems to a friend on his deathbed at the age of 40). He is from the same world as Shakespeare and Milton, and influenced Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickenson, T. S. Elliot and Elizabeth Bishop among others. He is considered among mystic poets, but more aptly is called a “metaphysical poet.”

Prayer from the Mystics: George Herbert (1593–1633)
Thou hast giv’n so much to me,
Give one thing more, a grateful heart.
Amen.