Monday, February 27, 2006

The art of hospitality

24 hours ago, I was all set to write a very indignant and rather judgmental post.
The baptism family of the multiple aborted visits finally made it to the font after the 10.00 Eucharist, accompanied by their 120 guests, all bedecked in full splendour as for a Hollywood premiere. I was baptising the 10 year old and her little brother…Infant behaved beautifully, but elder sister (resplendent in a white fur stole) played to the multitude of cameras for all she was worth, while assorted aunts adjusted their make-up as they sat in the pews and the uncles slipped outside for a quick cig. By the end of the service, I felt rather as if I might have been part of an exercise in hospitality abuse, and stomped off home in a less than euphoric state.
The grump (partly occasioned by lack of sleep, after a long day’s fundraising on Satuday and a late night attempt to produce a punchy meaningful and family friendly account of the gospel to dish up to the Baptism party) lasted me all the way to bed, only somewhat ameliorated by a walk with LoudBoy and the pony in a hailstorm. A fitting end to the week, really.
But this morning, when I tottered up to church for Morning Prayer, it dawned on me that 27th February is the day when we celebrate beloved George Herbert.

A long long time ago, I embarked on a PhD tracing his use of music as a metaphor for our relationship with God. I didn’t think of myself as much more than agnostic at the time, but a year of research in Durham, grubbling happily about amid examples of this approach in earlier writers as diverse as Augustine, Dante and Puttenham tended to focus my thoughts somewhat. When the money ran out and I found myself living and working in London, there was no point in pretending any longer. I’d spent the previous 6 years worshipping every Sunday as part of assorted college choirs…I’d been able to pretend that it was only the music that had held me. Now, entering the grown-up word, I realised that I would not be able to function if I didn’t continue this rhythm of prayer and worship. I had to admit it. I was hooked.
I never did finish my thesis but Herbert continued to speak to me across the centuries again and again, and this morning, while I still bristled gently at the outrageous treatment of God’s hospitality, I found myself beginning the prayers with the poem that never fails to bring me to my knees. I've almost certainly blogged it before, but I make no apology. I don't think you can ever read it too often.

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.

"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
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," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.

That silenced me, as seems entirely appropriate.


the reverend mommy said...

Absolutely beautiful.

Justin Lewis-Anthony said...

I am glad that Herbert soothed the savage breast, but I'm not sure Love (III) was applicable to your situation and the peasants of the baptism party (or rather, the peasants wanting the boring "churchy" stuff to be over before the serious business of the party could begin). It strikes me that the speaker in Love (III) is already aware of their own inadequacy in sitting to table with Love: guilty of dust and sin, unprepared for the significance (perceived or otherwise) of the meal to be shared. It is then that Love overcomes the narrator's perceived unworthiness, but the narrator had to express the unworthiness first, before Love was able to explain and overcome it. It is analagous to the father in the parable of the two sons; the Prodigal one returns, and the father runs to meet and greet him - but the Prodigal was already returning.

Where is this sense of unworthiness or repentance expressed in the behaviour of the "guests" in church on Sunday? It strikes me only in the heart of the curate (g), and I am not sure that that counts!

Mark said...

You're right - that poem cannot be read too often. Thank you. (I'd have been disappointed not to find GH on your blog for yesterday.)

However, I do think our general practice of baptism means that we are continually caught in the tension between wanting to welcome and wanting to insist on the meaning of this non-repeatable rite.

Personally, as you know I'm all for "an open table" (which context GH's poem fits more closely) and much more wary of "an open font" (clumsy phrase, but you know what I mean).

Be kind to yourself, K. Not all your anger/irritability is misplaced, I'm sure. Especially with all that you are carrying at the moment. And don't forget, in Love's words, to 'sit down' from time to time.

Tom Allen said...

With apologies in advance for todays post about George Herbert -and moving swiftly on to the christening/baptism debate. I am not sure that we can insist on the ceremony having a particular meaning for the family - or indeed that they clothe or behave in particular ways - I tend know to go with the flow and leave the sacrament to God. What I think we can offer is a friendly approachable personhood - which means that there is a possibility of future contact.I increasingly think that baptism offer little opportunity (at the time of the baptism) for any kind of evangelism other than recognising that the dressing up etc is a sign of its importance as a family which in many cases is replacing a marriage - where the parents married?

see-through faith said...


You are one hospitable lady and need to be kinder to yourself - by taking a nap or two!!!

Be blessed.

Sue said...

Lovely. Just lovely.