Posts Tagged With: George Herbert

A Kitchen of Feasting and Prayer

Setting up the kitchen has been one the most telling tasks so far of the work that will go into weaving together several lives, past and present, into a home.

Of course, my parents and I had a working kitchen over the past decade. Cupboards were filled with dishes and the pantry with food. In fact, we had two sets of dishes, one of 16 settings so we could host large groups. But once my mother passed and this space was to be my home in a new way, it was time to actively create a new space. Six boxes from an apartment sat in the garage, holding items from an earlier kitchen and dreams of living on my own. Items I hadn’t seen for over a decade. Each drawer in the kitchen contained memories of cooking with my mother. Now I had to merge the two. So, I invited a friend over to help me decide.

Did I need eight pie plates? No.

Two waffle irons? No

Seven aprons? Well, maybe.

At first it took awhile as I commented on a jelly pottery jar (in the shape of a bunch of grapes) that a friend of my mom’s made over forty years ago. Or, as I decided which of four dish sets I would keep. But eventually we hit a rhythm and just worked through the boxes and cabinets. I felt an active letting go of the past, along with a hope for meals with friends and family in the coming weeks and months.

Through this process life continued. It wasn’t about trying to retain what had been lost. It was about keeping this space as a place of living relationships. I was thinking about inviting over students and friends so I could make use of these pots and pans – and even the pie plates. I wanted toshare the feast of living with those who visit.

In the work of melding these stories and spending time with a friend, it was also a type of prayer. Of recognizing ongoing life that is not ours grasp, but to celebrate.

Recently I encountered George Herbert’s poem Prayer (I) that lists a multitude of images for prayer – starting with “the church’s banquet”.

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.
-Prayer (I), George Herbert

As prayer itself is described as a banquet, manna, land of spices, I’m also seeing how a banquet and the enjoyment of a meal may be a form of prayer as friends gather around God’s daily bread.

Stepping into this reworked kitchen, I can only hope that my actions in it will be a prayer, a small part of the church’s banquet. That the cooking and baking here will celebrate the gracious gifts of the Father, that I will see Christ in the people served around the table, and that the Spirit of God, a spirit of Shalom, will invade the space.

IMG_3412Last weekend I had the privilege of hosting a group of former graduate students around the table and continuing this prayer. I used Pyrex bowls and steel measuring spoons that had prepared many meals before and new white and cobalt blue dishes that were seeing their first dinner party. A favorite recipe from an aunt and ones I found just last week. These kitchen items and the food they helped prepare and serve, provided the basis for a type of prayer – communication with God in the presence of friends as people reconnected and celebrated new life, new jobs, and voiced concerns.

It was a grace-filled image of what this home can become.

Categories: God's Story | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Holy Scriptures and Authority

Holy Scriptures II, by George Herbert

OH that I knew how all thy lights combine,
            And the configurations of their glorie!
             Seeing not onely how each verse doth shine,
But all the constellations of the storie.
This verse marks that, and both do make a motion
             Unto a third, that ten leaves off doth lie:
             Then as dispersed herbs do watch a potion,
These three make up some Christians destinie:
Such are thy secrets, which my life makes good,
             And comments on thee: for in ev’ry thing
             Thy words do finde me out, & parallels bring,
And in another make me understood.
              Starres are poore books, & oftentimes do misse:
             This book of starres lights to eternall blisse.


In this poem Herbert implicitly compares the authority of stars – and their associated study – with that of scripture; and the stars don’t fare well.  For him there is no doubt that holy scripture is the touchstone of life that ‘lights to eternall blisse’.  Yet, this implicit trust in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible is not a given today even among Christians.

Where does the authority of any text come from?  One response is likely to be the author (from Latin – auctor(author, founder, originator), auctoritat (power, decision)).  If the author is an expert in the subject, uses reliable sources, writes truthfully, and has reputable colleagues, then people are likely to view the book as authoritative or at least willing to test it out.  When George Herbert penned this poem his authority came from his life as a parish priest in Bemerton, his knowledge of the English language, and a degree from Cambridge – a combination of external and internal sources.

Questions about authority don’t often arise in relation to a poem – unless it has to do with whether or not the state author actually composed the poem.  Yet, when we encounter something that is historical, scientific, or that may ask us take a position, there is a greater desire to understand the authority behind the text.  Who should we trust?  Political writings that skew statistics in order to denigrate the other side, memoirs that fictionalize a story presented as actually occurring, or historical writings and assumptions that are being constantly revised make us more wary of the trustworthiness of other writings.

The Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, Modern, and Post-Modern eras with the growth of scientific inquiry, industrial progress, historical research, and reliance on human reason has prompted many questions about the authority of once revered texts.  Nothing is to be assumed or taken for granted.  Does the essential meaning of a text come from the one who writes it or from the reader who is interpreting it?  Does the one who puts pen to paper or fingers to keys really define the author of the text?  Can a text claim to have authority any more as post-modern critical methods rip away the foundations of trust?  What does it mean for something to be true?

The discipline of literary criticism has have been discussing the idea of textual authority for decades whether it’s Michel Foucault’s asking what is an author, Harold Bloom exploring the anxiety of influence, Stanley Fish wondering what makes a text, or Elaine Showalter looking at the authority of male versus female writings.  These methods have bled into other disciplines.  With its historical and cultural importance, the Bible has not been exempted from, and has often been at the center of this questioning.

In 1633 when Herbert penned this poem, questioning of the Bible’s authority had already started and has continued such that the introduction to his poems in one anthology asserts that people continue to study his poems even though the common belief in biblical authority is now gone. It can be easy to be swept up into the view of scripture as yet another text to question like all the others.  That is, we must prove its authority through human reason.  However, C. S. Lewis’ relationship with this book prompted him to write that “the Bible is fundamentally a sacred book, and demands incessantly to be taken on its own terms . . . Stripped . . . of its divine authority, stripped of its allegorical senses, denied a romantic welcome it cannot achieve its function.”

So, on what do we base the authority of scripture in this age and take it on its own terms as God’s Word – seeing in it all the “constellations of the storie”?  This will be one of my explorations in the coming months.

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