"I blame George Herbert for me becoming a Christian," Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, an Anglican priest, wrote recently for The Guardian. Reading Herbert left Threlfall-Holmes
with the sense that I was standing on a cliff, staring out to sea, hearing marvelous tales of lands beyond the horizon and wondering if they were, after all, just fairy tales or whether the intensity with which the tales were told was evidence that the teller had indeed seen a barely imagined kingdom.
I know exactly what she means. I can't claim such a dramatic encounter, but I do blame the great 17th-century English priest and poet for deepening my journey in Christ and leading me into a liturgical church.
And so do other believers, among whom it seems there is a small renaissance of all things Herbert. Scholar John Drury just published his biography of Herbert in the United States. Theologian and blogger Benjamin Myers is working on a small book of letters to the poet, entitled Dear Mr. Herbert. Each one will riff on one of the poems and describe how it has formed Myers spiritually. (A wonderful discipline: Compose letters to your favorite figures from Christian history, telling them how their witness has helped to fortify your faith.) And various church leaders, like Threlfall-Holmes, have been seeking to make Herbert accessible to a wide range of ordinary believers.
Why all this interest in Herbert, and why now? I believe it's because Herbert writes with unblinking candor about both the joy of faith and the ongoing pain of our remaining weakness. We need his words today, to remind us that the Christian life is one that invites hope, but makes room for struggle as well.
Born into an aristocratic family in 1593, and by all appearances ...