Lent with Herbert Day 20: ‘Heaven in Ordinary’


We continue our Lenten Journey through Herbert’s poem Prayer, using the sonnets in my new book After Prayer. If you want a feel for the book itself and for what moved me to write it there is a full interview Here, conducted by Lancia Smith for her excellent ‘Cultivating’ website.

In our last post on Gladness of the Best, we saw how, having been lifted up by Christ, Herbert has a chance to look around and be glad, to delight again in the goodness of God’s creation as well as the wonder of his grace and mercy. But he knows that we cannot yet remain on the heights forever, but that we must instead, descend again from the mountain of vision, back into the ‘ordinary’ world, but still taking that visionary gleam with us, ready to see the light of heaven suddenly shining out from anywhere in the midst of the every day, and so the next phrase in his poem is Heaven in Ordinary.

As you can imagine I approached this, perhaps the most famous phrase in Herbert’s poem, with some trepidation. The phrase ‘Heaven in ordinary’ always seems to summon that other famous verse of Herbert’s, which we sing together in church:

A Man that looks on glass

On it may stay his eye,

Or, if he pleaseth, through it pass

And then the Heavens espy.

Just for a moment the glassy surface of the world, dusty and familiar, is cleared and cleansed; something shines through, and we have a brief anticipation of Paul’s great hope for us all: that though ‘now we see through a glass darkly’, one day ‘we shall know as we are known’, one day ‘we shall see face to face’, and the face we shall see is the face of Love. It also happened that I wrote this poem just before Christmas and it seemed to me that any understanding of Herbert’s phrase must start with the moment the Lord of Heaven was born on earth,a midst the dirt and clutter of the stable and the manger.

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.

Heaven in Ordinary

Because high heaven made itself so low

That I might glimpse it through a stable door,

Or hear it bless me through a hammer blow,

And call me through the voices of the poor,

Unbidden now, its hidden light breaks through

Amidst the clutter of the every day,

Illuminating things I thought I knew,

Whose dark glass brightens, even as I pray.


Then this world’s walls no longer stay my eyes,

A veil is lifted likewise from my heart,

The moment holds me in its strange surprise,

The gates of paradise are drawn apart,

I see his tree, with blossom on its bough,

And nothing can be ordinary now.

I see his tree, with blossom on its bough,
And nothing can be ordinary now.


Filed under Poems

9 responses to “Lent with Herbert Day 20: ‘Heaven in Ordinary’

  1. And nothing can be ordinary now!
    Indeed, beautiful words.

  2. That I might glimpse it through a stable door,

    Or hear it bless me through a hammer blow,
    ~ Malcolm Guite

    What you did here, for me, Malcolm, is crack the door, give us a peek through the curtain, give us a splinter in an instant. Those two lines, oh!
    God has blessed you and us through you. Thank you for sharing.


  3. Pingback: Lent with Herbert Day 21: Man Well Dressed | Malcolm Guite

  4. Pingback: Prayer and ‘After Prayer’, a Hypertext | Malcolm Guite

  5. Jean Dabinett

    Treasure trove. An Image may pop up at any time with yet another facet. For me, recently, it is Heaven in Ordinary. Man well dressed.
    The Lord of Glory (Transfiguration) A King in crown and coronation robes; or d resplendent in a parade. Or dressed up to the nines in military splendour, dripping with medals .. Why does He strip and get into everyday working clothes.? mufti?
    For the returned repentant sinner the Father says “Bring the best robe”
    Is this one of the special robes essential for all the guests welcomed at the great Banquet; was this robe available as a gift to all ?
    So you and dear Herbert have created pictures and gratitude for Grace.
    Thank you

  6. So good Mr. Guite
    In the tardis into heaven
    The room through-into which my friend Anee Carson says we all go
    Though the eternal footman take my life coat and snicker
    I shall with your poems greater mirth his laughter o’er crow

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