The Country Parson’s Lenten Call

Today the Church celebrates the life of poet, priest, and writer George Herbert. While at Huron University College in the mid nineties, I read the Country Parson for the first time.  It was a formative book for me when I read it over twenty years ago. I revisited it tonight for the first time is some time…He sets a pretty high standard for pastors. If I thought I would aspire to that 20 years ago…. oh dear… I have much work to do!  The book is written for it’s time. what makes it great is the spirit of what Herbert writes, not so much the specifics of the culture of pastoring in the seventeenth century. Times change but the care and attention that a priest should show his or her flock has not. The book is full of good counsel:

– The character of the pastor’s Sermon is Holiness;  The Pastor is not witty, or learned, or eloquent, but Holy.
– The Country Parson is full of all knowledge. They say, it is an ill Mason that refuses any stone: and there is no knowledge, but, in a skilful hand, serves either positively as it is, or else to illustrate some other knowledge. He condescends even to the knowledge of tillage, and pastorage, and makes great use of them in teaching, because people by what they understand, are best led to what they understand not.
-the Parson is very strict in keeping his word, though it be to his own hindrance, as knowing, that if he be not so, he will quickly be discovered, and disregarded: neither will they believe him in the pulpit, whom they cannot trust in his conversation.
-The Country Parson is full of Charity.It is his pre- dominant element…When he rises in the morning, he thinks to himself what good deeds he can do that day.
– When-ever he gives any thing, and sees them labour in thanking of him, he exacts of them to let him alone, and say rather, God be praised, God be glorified; that so the thanks may go the right way, and there only, where they are only due.
– When the Parson travels leaves not his Ministry behind him; but is himself where ever he is.

The list goes on. There is also advice in there about avoiding taverns and intoxicating beverages — but I am less fond of those!

Beyond his great book on pastoring, Herbert was a tremendous poet. Perhaps the best religious writer of poetry ever. I share with you today as an offering in my daily Lenten Reflections is Poem – Lent.

‘Lent’ by George Herbert

Welcome dear feast of Lent: who loves not thee,
He loves not Temperance, or Authority,
But is compos’d of passion.
The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church says, now:
Give to thy Mother, what thou wouldst allow
To ev’ry Corporation.

The humble soul compos’d of love and fear
Begins at home, and lays the burden there,
When doctrines disagree,
He says, in things which use hath justly got,
I am a scandal to the Church, and not
The Church is so to me.

True Christians should be glad of an occasion
To use their temperance, seeking no evasion,
When good is seasonable;
Unless Authority, which should increase
The obligation in us, make it less,
And Power itself disable.

Besides the cleanness of sweet abstinence,
Quick thoughts and motions at a small expense,
A face not fearing light:
Whereas in fulness there are sluttish fumes,
Sour exhalations, and dishonest rheums,
Revenging the delight.

Then those same pendant profits, which the spring
And Easter intimate, enlarge the thing,
And goodness of the deed.
Neither ought other men’s abuse of Lent
Spoil the good use; lest by that argument
We forfeit all our Creed.

It’s true, we cannot reach Christ’s forti’eth day;
Yet to go part of that religious way,
Is better than to rest:
We cannot reach our Saviour’s purity;
Yet we are bid, ‘Be holy ev’n as he,’
In both let’s do our best.

Who goeth in the way which Christ hath gone,
Is much more sure to meet with him, than one
That travelleth by-ways:
Perhaps my God, though he be far before,
May turn and take me by the hand, and more:
May strengthen my decays.

Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast
By starving sin and taking such repast,
As may our faults control:
That ev’ry man may revel at his door,
Not in his parlour; banqueting the poor,
And among those his soul.

I love this poem. It is true that we cannot reach Christ’s fortieth day but we should try. We cannot reach the purity of Christ our Saviour – yet we are encouraged in scripture to be holy even as Jesus was holy. Herbert posits that we do our best. We must make the effort. I am very hopeful that Herbert is right. My God will meet me where I am. Take pause on the journey to see that I am lagging behind, and offer a hand back. In fact I can say that God has done so for me so often before. My decaying spirit has been lifted by the hand of a God who would not leave me journeying the dark valleys alone, and would not see me fall too far behind.

So let us be glad of the occasion of Lent…. it is an opportunity….

Thank you George Herbert.

As always — your comments are welcomed.


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