Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back

Reflecting on George Herbert’s poem

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Love by George Herbert

LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed 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, 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.

“Love bade me welcome yet my soul drew back”

Have you ever had that feeling? Someone welcomes you or bestows on you great affection yet within yourself you feel the recoil?

As a child, I was quite taken by illustrations in children books particularly those inside the home of whatever character whether human or animal. When I think about it I was drawn most to those in which an animal was the character whether that was a rabbit or a mouse.

It seemed there was always an illustration of the character inviting someone for tea whether in the Hobbit, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and so forth. When I read this opening line I have the character of Love bidding me welcome to their home. It seems underground but with all the trappings of above ground.

“Guilty of dust and sin.”

Ah, that is the source of the recoil, my guilt, my feeling of unworthiness created by my wrongdoing or ‘a false’ conditioning or ‘an awareness’ that is in the presence of Love fully aware of the parts of me that are unloved the same parts that too struggle to love. Perhaps a mixture of them all.

“But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning

If I lack’d anything.”

Yet love sees the doubt, the hesitancy, the shame and moves quickly to me and in so doing overcoming those things within that would hold me back from the work of love.

‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’

I remind myself that Herbert wrote this in the 17th century. People are people of whatever age, feeling worthy, feeling unworthy. Why do we feel, ‘we don’t deserve’? The presence of another such as Love perhaps tells us how much we lack it. Someone treats us like we may never treat another. They treat us as a person to be served regardless of whatever we may or may have not done. They treat us fully in the moment as a loving mother her newborn. Nothing to prove or ‘unprove’, it is enough just to be present yet we shrink back from our presence. Who are we not worthy not to be here?

Love said, ‘You shall be he.’

‘I, the unkind, 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.”

What does Love see? What do I see?

Love loves, it is feeling love it is not seeing at least it is not seeing what we are seeing that is holding us back, that is shaming us.

Two incidents come to mind. I attended a concert. We decided that we would only stay for the first half as we seeing how well our 12-year-old daughter would fare home alone. Somehow we got talking to the composer’s wife and we explained our plan. She walked us to two seats that were elevated in the Cathedral and sat us there, told us to enjoy the rest of the concert and hoped that where she had sat us made it easier for us to depart.

The other was when I attended a stranger's home for a quiet morning. It was part of the Quiet Garden movement whereby people opened their homes and gardens for people to come and pray. At the end, the woman of the house took me to every room of her home in order that on a return visit I would not be inhibited from using any room in the house. On both these occasions, I felt a tinge of ‘ you don’t have to do this for me’. It was showing that perhaps I was not as open as the other and I was struggling to receive such generosity of heart. That thought that sometimes lingers, “ I don’t deserve this.”

‘Go where it doth deserve.’

So where do I think my shame should go? Back to the place where it occurred.

‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’

And here Love responds by saying that it has dealt with the shame in order that there is no reason we can’t meet and Love can get to know the love that inhabits this soul.

‘My dear, then I will serve.’

‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’

So I did sit and eat.”

Even when I remain reluctant Love continues to serve, encouraging me to take my place that I may be nourished.

Somehow its power is greater than my shame and I find myself sitting and communing through the meal Love hast prepared for me.

g

Speaks with a Northern Irish accent, lives in Hertfordshire, England.