George Herbert and Practicing the Presence of God

One of my favorite poets is George Herbert.

One of the most important spiritual disciplines is practicing God’s presence (in the sense of calling God and the things pertaining to him to mind throughout the day).

Thus, one of my greatest delights is this poem:

The Elixir

TEach me, my God and King,
        In all things thee to see,
And what I do in any thing,
        To do it as for thee:

        Not rudely, as a beast,
        To runne into an action;
But still to make thee prepossest,
        And give it his perfection.

        A man that looks on glasse,
        On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it passe,
        And then the heav’n espie.

        All may of thee partake:
        Nothing can be so mean,
Which with his tincture (for thy sake)
        Will not grow bright and clean.

        A servant with this clause
        Makes drudgerie divine:
Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
        Makes that and th’ action fine.

        This is the famous stone
        That turneth all to gold:
For that which God doth touch and own
        Cannot for lesse be told.

 The power of this particular poem is that it brings Christian mysticism (of the good kind, not some of the weird stuff) to everybody by describing it in brief, easy to remember instructions. It is, in this respect is wonderful commentary on Paul’s instructions concerning being mindful of the Spirit (Romans 8:1-7). The only problem with the poem is that it is not very Christ centered. This makes sense though, because in Herbert’s day, concepts of God were thoroughly Christ oriented and Trinitarian. I would suspect that today this poem might need to be appended with advice such as: when you call God to mind as you work, do so as God is revealed in the gospel stories about Jesus.  


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