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Trying to follow Herbert — 4 Comments

  1. I doubt if George Herbert enjoyed the tiredness for its own sake. The monastic ascetic practice was about mortification of the flesh (I read the anonymous Life of St Cuthbert yesterday, which includes an anecdote about how he waded into the sea to pray); the Herbert example concerns active charity. Of course, St Cuthbert frequently succoured the poor and sick as well.

  2. Herbert is an interesting (and extraordinary) character whom I have always admired. His book ‘A Priest to the Temple or A Country Parson’ presents a very demanding model of parish ministry. His ministry was very brief and was probably unsustainable in the long term. I think there was, in such compulsive activity, something of a desire to be spent in discipleship, which is not so far from the ascetic tradition.

  3. Herbert’s ministry unsustainable? I think so. Blessed George wrote wonderful poetry that moves me as little else does, but his image of priesthood is irrelevant to the rector with three or more churches/parishes, no readers, no retired clergy, no administrators, hospitals, homes, school …. George was in pastoral ministry in one utterly tiny village for only three years, and then he died. Cause and effect? ‘If you see George Herbert on the road, kill him’ is the title of a book by Justin Lewis-Anthony, and I take from it the need to cultivate studied detachment, to ignore the expectations that people dump on one because ‘the last rector did it’, or ‘we’ve always done it that way’. George was not averse to complaining, it seems, if his poem ‘The Collar’ is anything to go by. It speaks to me, anyway!

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