On our Lenten Journey through Herbert’s poem Prayer, using the sonnets in my new book After Prayer, we emerged at last from his dark series, within the longer sequence, then passed through a passage of transposition and retuning in the middle two lines of the poem:
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
Kind of tune that all things hear and fear
Today we continue Herbert’s beautiful ascent back into joy, a joy which is all the more secure and real because it has passed through and transmuted sorrow. Herbert signals this in a single line:
Softness and peace and joy and love and bliss
Yesterday’s sonnet reflected on softness, and today it is the turn of peace. The hidden text, the saying of Jesus, with which today’s poem (and Herbert’s original line) is in conversation, is John 14:27:
27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
The peace Christ gives us, and will always give us, is not the world’s peace, not the so-called peace imposed by the world’s winners on the ‘losers’, they exploit, not the phony peace that papers over injustice and exploitation, of which the Roman historian Tacitus said ‘They make a desolation and call it peace’. The peace of Christ is something different: living, active, creatively seeking reconciliation, proclaiming love even to enemies. How does that peace become prayer, and prayer become that peace? The image that came to me in the poem was of prayer itself patiently picking the locks on the chains of unforgiveness that bind us, and then we, of our own choice, once freed, seeking and assisting, in prayer and in life, the very people, with whom we have not had peace before. Not easy, and only possible, like all forgiveness, if we know in our hearts that we have ourselves been completely forgiven.
As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title
Not as the world gives, not the victor’s peace,
Not to be fought for, hard-won, or achieved,
Just grace and mercy, gratefully received:
An undeserved and unforeseen release,
As the cold chains of memory and wrath
Fall from our hearts before we are aware,
Their rusty locks all picked by patient prayer,
Till closed doors open, and we see a path
Descending from a source we cannot see;
A path that must be taken, hand in hand,
Only by those, forgiving and forgiven,
Who see their saviour in their enemy.
So reach for me. We’ll cross our broken land,
And make each other bridges back to Heaven.