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Easter WingsHallo again to all.

This evening we listened to the most recent segment of the very fine BBC Wales programme All Things Considered. (US readers will likely be more familiar with another All Things Considered; we are keen on both without much partiality about which side of the Atlantic is the source of the broadcast or podcast.) Tonight's programme was an interview with John Herbert, a direct descendant and spiritual heir of Welsh Anglican luminary George Herbert. It is not often that disembodied aural material really moves us, but this chance to hear the sainted elder Herbert's words in the voice of his modern-day kinsman was remarkable. Although we regret that distance and other commitments will keep us from attending the George Herbert Festival later this month in Montgomeryshire, we feel very fortunate indeed to have had this opportunity to learn through the good marriage of theological substance and modern technology about continuities in the Herbert family.

It was in this connection that we started to muse today about how George Herbert's ideas and ideals might be brought to bear afresh on Anglican life. Should we pray more? Should we wear skullcaps? Should we use a different version of the BCP? Should we covenant to memorize his poems and try to write our own in the same vein? Or should we rusticate, take Holy Orders, and do our level best to 'study to be quiet, and to do our own business'? In light of the wonderful use of technology by BBC Wales in bringing us Herbert's poems, 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.

It doesn't stand for BemertonWe'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.

We've thought before and asked before for blog-fasting, and we were delighted to see a similar sentiment from a thoughtful Muslim perspective in the Church of England Newspaper recently. Now more than ever, this is becoming a spiritual issue as much as a matter of expediency and charity. Instead of becoming the church of people who pray too little and blog too much, we have before us the opportunity to become anew people who love very much, pray quite a lot, read and listen excessively, think many things, say fewer things, and write and blog about our own opinions less than ever before. George Herbert will help us to see the way, which points through Bemerton and Little Gidding. You can get there on Easter Wings, and we hope to meet you there.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 21 September 2008

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