Friday, March 03, 2017

Opposites yoked

"The humble soul, compos'd of love and fear"

One thing I'm pretty sure of is that George Herbert must have been a wonderful priest!
Not because of all the "Country Parson" things...the assiduous visiting, the mixing up of home-spun remedies for his humble flock, the self-conscious, impossible holiness. Aspects of life and ministry that have been used as weapons against all too many parish others, and by themselves...a way of thinking that inspired Justin Lewis-Anthony to produce a book entitled "If you meet George Herbert on the road, kill him!"

No. I'm sure he was a wonderful priest because he struggled with all the inner contradictions that are part of life for, I'd hazard, absolutely everyone who has ever aspired to follow the way of Christ.....the contradictions St Paul summed up so wonderfully, admitting to the Romans:
"For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do."
We really are a bundle of contradictions - and at the heart of them is this pair of opposites, love and fear.

Who knows which came first, the situation or the teaching? 
The legacy of the Old Testament God, almighty, capricious, both wonderful beyond our imaginings and awe-ful...the God who sent floods and massacred Egyptian babies...the God who will show mercy to those to whom he will show mercy: that legacy remains a powerful one. Small wonder that this God inspired fear, calls forth sacrifices to appease him, - and even under the new Covenant the entangling of Church and Empire, the creation of an institution designed to keep the faithful quietly on their knees played into this culture. For centuries God was all about transcendence and to be God-fearing was only common-sense. 

But, at the same time, we know that "God is love" and that "perfect love drives out fear", that we are called to a wonder, love and praise that is un-shadowed by any fear, of the now or the hereafter. On a good day, that love predominates, but still and all a residual anxiety remains part of the reality for almost everyone I know,and that anxiety becomes in itself a ground of self-reproach. 
So, after all Herbert was right. Our souls swing from one extreme to the other, though the truth remains that we are made by Love and for love, as Teresa of Avila understood. I shall pray her words today.

My God, because you are so good, I love you with all my heart, and for your sake I love my neighbour as myself. If I love you, it is not just because of heaven which you promised; if I fear to offend you, it is not because hell threatens me. What draws me to you, O Lord, is yourself alone, it is the sight of you, nailed to the cross for me, your body bruised in the pains of death. Your love so holds my heart that, if there were no heaven, I would love you still. If there were no hell I would even still fear to offend you. I do not need your gifts to make me love you, for even if I should have no help of hope at all the things I do hope for, I would still love you with that very same love. Amen.

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