Come, My Light, My Feast, My Strength

Jaison Cianelli, "Bursting Sun"

Spiritual Sunday

The Anglican Church, which includes American Episcopalians, has a universal liturgy so that, every Sunday, all over the world congregations are following the same format (although variations are permissible within that format).  Following the opening hymn, I always use the following prayer to anchor myself. No matter how distracted or upset I may be feeling, a sense of peace washes through me as I hear the minister recite the familiar words:

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The metaphor may seem to get muddled—hearts have thoughts?—but the intermingling of mind, heart and spirit echo what Jesus identified as the two great commandments. These appear in a passage that is part of today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 22:34-40). Jesus has been asked which of God’s commandments is the greatest and answers,

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.

Nor are heart, soul, and mind to be directed only toward God.  Jesus follows this up with,

And a second is like it:`You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

The clarity is impressive given its context. Jesus is being tested by hostile priests trying to trip him up in the dizzying entanglement of Jewish laws.  But Jesus, with the clarity of one who lives a life of deep faith, can see beyond lower order concerns. He cuts to the chase.

I love the way that the following George Herbert poem does so as well. Episcopalians may already know the poem because it has been set to music in a beautiful hymn. In it, the poet comes to God with an open heart, mind and spirit.

In other Herbert poems there are references to the poet’s struggle and his agony over not being able open himself to God. In some of these he lashes out in angry frustration. (For instance, see my posts on “The Collar” and “Longing.”) And while there are side references to those dark moments in this poem, the emphasis is on the strong positive nouns: Way, Truth, Life, Light, Feast, Strength, Joy, Love, Heart. These make up the sunlight that chases away all shadows, that gives us breath, ends all strife, shows a feast, makes a guest.

Such a Joy as none can move, such a Love as none can part, such a Heart as joys in love. Move/love and part/Heart knit together the final stanza, giving it bonding strength, while Joy, Love and Heart begin and end the verse. A perfect circle. Like God’s love.

The Call

By George Herbert

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life :
Such a Way, as gives us breath :
Such a Truth, as ends all strife :
And such a Life, as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength :
Such a Light, as shows a feast :
Such a Feast, as mends in length :
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart :
Such a Joy, as none can move :
Such a Love, as none can part :
Such a Heart, as joys in love.

 

Artist Jaison Cianelli’s work may be found at cianellistudios.com/blog/busting-sun-abstract-landscape-painting.

 

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  • Carl

    I had not — as a Jew, and not a very liturgically well-educated one — been aware of the prayer from Matthew, but it is a loud echo of opening of the Jewish prayer “V’ahav’ta”, which comes from Deuteronomy. (“You shall love thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might,” is the way I remember it.) The ways in which the Hebrew Bible is reconfigured in the New Testament never cease to fascinate me.

    Long ago I conceived a plan to develop an elective course for high school English, “The Bible as Literature”, inspired by the wonderfully revelatory (I use that word in its secular sense) course of the same name I took in college with the magnificent professor Robert Alter. Such a course should be supported by those on the left and right of the political spectrum, although for different reasons. Just toying with the idea, let alone delivering the curriculum itself, would provide an outstanding opportunity for interfaith discussion, including the viewpoints of those who are atheist and agnostic but who recognize the effect of the all-time best-seller on the intellectual legacy of humans through history.

    Have you ever taught such a course? We should work on this!

  • http://johnewordslinger.wordpress.com John E WordSlinger

    Mr. Bates

    this is beautiful, thank you,
    and thank you George Herbert

    Good day-

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