... our reflections about Herbert for today boil down into one hard question: Would George Herbert have had a blog?
The question isn't entirely frivolous. For the Herbertish quality we find most missing today is the pure chemical once known as reserve, and probably more easily understood in today's speech if we call it modesty. This is the holy reticence that gives us a double commemoration in 2008, and one of the most telling facts about Herbert's poems: in keeping the 375th anniversary of Herbert's death this year, we also mark the 375th anniversary of the publication of his masterwork, the collection of paraliturgical poems known so well to us as The Temple. Herbert did not publish his poems during his lifetime, and in entrusting them in manuscript form to his friend Nicholas Ferrar he did so with sincere reluctance. It is the same sacred modesty that led John Keble to write his poems not for the press, but for his friends, and the same reserve that kept him from publishing them until his friends demanded it. This is the same sense of propriety and inner judgement that has given centuries of Christians the wisdom to think before speaking or writing, let alone acting or promoting their own preferred agenda as the best for others to follow. And it is deeply, sadly antithetical to our wired world in which the spaces between thought, keyboard and mouse are measured in synapses rather than in minutes or hours. With so much easy information at our fingertips, we've lost some of the ability to discern what is wheat and what is wonderbread. Allowing some space in our communication for breathing and grace may make us slightly less efficient, but it will also make us more like the salt and light Christians are called to be in the world.
We're not thinking it'd be universally beneficial to move toward seventeenth-century modes of thought and behaviour, and we're personally happy to see the passing of the theology enshrined in a church that sang of 'The rich man in his castle / The poor man at his gate / God made them high and lowly / And order'd their estate'. But the reticence, modesty, reserve, caution, carefulness, restraint—call it what you may—that fills Herbert's life and writings and makes them so valuable for us today has largely passed away as well. It's time to bring it back, and Wordpress or Blogger will probably not be helpful in that endeavour. We need to remember that Herbert lived, prayed, and wrote in a church fraught with conflict, much like ours. The forty years of his short life saw quite as much ecclesiastical change around the world as the last forty have seen in our day. But his attitude in this period of bewildering party politics was one of servanthood, duty, sacrifice and focus rather than their opposites.
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