“The Altar”

As Lent begins this year on Mar. 1, the date of his commemoration, it seems most appropriate to draw again from the writings of my favorite 17th century poet, George Herbert.

He was born Apr. 3, 1593, in Montgomeryshire, England, and went on to graduate from Trinity College in 1616, where he taught as professor of rhetoric until 1628, also serving in Parliament for a time. But with a heart for service to the Church, Herbert was ordained an Anglican priest in 1630 and sent to a small parish near Salisbury, England. Sadly, his service there was brief, for he died of tuberculosis Mar. 1, 1633. But his legacy lives on in two great works, The Country Parson (1652), a guide for rural ministry, and The Temple (1633), a collection of poems reflecting on faith, prayer, love, scripture, sacraments and other theological themes.

The selection below is one of several “shape” poems in this collection (“Easter Wings”, shared in 2005, was another such). They were specially typeset to mirror the theme or object of which it spoke. Thus, “The Altar”:

The Altar
A broken A L T A R, Lord, thy servant rears,
Made of a heart, and cemented with tears:
Whose parts are as thy hand did frame;
No workman’s tool hath touch’d the same.
A H E A R T alone
Is such a stone,
As nothing but
Thy power doth cut.
Wherefore each part
Of my hard heart
Meets in this frame,
To praise thy name.
That if I chance to hold my peace,
These stones to praise thee may not cease.
Oh let thy blessed S A C R I F I C E be mine,
And sanctify this A L T A R to be thine.

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