Thursday, 3/22/ 12
In the first reading God gave in to Moses when Moses pleaded for the life of his people. Five hundred years ago the English poet George Herbert spoke of that incident in his poem “Decay.”
Herbert did more that speak of that one incident. He let his imagination run free, and he pictured other Old Testament saints as having private conversations with God. He contrasted their closeness to God with the way people in his time hardly ever thought of God. He said that if they continued neglecting God, giving their hearts over to sin and Satan, God would punish them. Here is his poem:
Sweet were the days when you didst lodge with Lot, Struggle with Jacob, sit with Gideon, Advise with Abraham, when thy power could not encounter Moses strong complaint and moan: Thy words were then, Let me alone.
One might have sought and found thee presently at some fair oak or bush, or cave or well. Is my Lord this way? No, they would reply: He is to Sinai gone, as we heard tell. List, ye may hear great Aaron’s bell.
But now thou dost thy self immure and close in some one corner of a feeble heart: where yet both Sin and Satan, thy old foes, do pinch and straighten thee, and use much art to gain thy thirds and little part.
I see the world grows old, when as the heat of thy great love once spread, now as in an urn doth closet up it self, and still retreat, cold sin still forcing it, till it return, and calling Justice, all things burn.
George Herbert was a teenager when Shakespeare put his play “Julius Caesar” on at the Globe Theatre. He may have taken the last line of his poem from Mark Anthony’s speech that concluded with Caesar saying he would return from the dead, and, “Crying vengeance, let slip the dogs of war.”