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Portrait of George Herbert

We cannot see Him. Once, mankind walked with God and saw His face, but we pursued the devices and desires of our own hearts, we thought to be as wise as God – an endeavour showing how foolish we are as a species. So we were banished. Like Isaiah we fear to see His holiness for we know we are men of unclean lips. And yet the Psalmist expresses what is in the hearts of all Christians when he writes:

My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, I will seek.

Augustine says the same thing and extends it when he says that our hearts are restless until they find rest in God, and if we will, even for a moment, turn from the clamant noises we seek and which fill our ears, then our hearts too, will tell us this; the Spirit reaches out to us all, and we know that even though we are far off, God reaches out for us. My beloved George Herbert puts it well in his wonderful The Pulley

But keep them with repining restlesnesse:
Let him be rich and wearie, that at least,
If goodnesse leade him not, yet wearinesse
May tosse him to my breast

That emptiness we strive so hard to keep at bay, is the longing to which we yield when we give in – as Herbert suggests, it is a natural process designed by God. When we think we know better, we strive and use our strength, as though we really can take the kingdom of heaven by storm. However, if we will strip away our pride of self, if we will receive him as a small child, then that balancing of which Herbert wrote, can take place.

As we approach what Eliot called the ‘Midwinter spring

When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,

we can take advantage of the darkness and the silence to cease from mental strife, and in the dying to ourself, we find the new life in him. We cannot, broken vessels that we are, see him clear, but even through a glass darkly is better than naught.

It is called ‘faith’ because our sin does not allow the certainty of seeing him – like Isaiah we would want a burning coal to purge our sin. In the quietness of prayer, we can reflect that Jesus’ sacrifice has paid the price for our sins and that his love embraces us even as sinners; He is always there, where are we?

We watch and we wait this Advent season. Sometimes our theologising with our heads misses what our hearts tell us – which is that we are loved of God. Herbert caught our feelings so well here:

Love bade me welcome.
Yet my soul drew back

God, being love, does not, in the poem, accept our refusal to look on Him, but rather:

“Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, Who made the eyes but I?”

Like the Prodigal, Herbert’s sinner cannot accept the love, but offers rather to be a humble servant – to which God/Love responds:

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
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If we will but ‘sit and eat’, then our restless heart will find fulfillment in Him.

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