Rambling for Kirwan Uniting Church Keep in Touch Newsletter 26 July 2020
Two of my favourite poets are John Donne and George Herbert. They were contemporaries and have much in common, both of Welsh descent, both educated at Cambridge, both became (reluctant) Anglican priests (shades of another favourite, the Welsh poet/priest R S Thomas), both pioneer practitioners of the metaphysical school. Donne adopted as his ordination seal a design of Christ crucified on an anchor. Not long before he died, he had copies of the seal made and sent to the friends he valued most, Herbert among them. In gratitude, Herbert wrote a poem in Latin to Donne exploring the image.
Another Herbert poem which includes reference to an anchor is ‘Hope’.
I gave to Hope a watch of mine; but he
An anchor gave to me.
Here, Hope is a personification of Christ. Perhaps the most overlooked of the three “abiding”, that is eternal, virtues from 1 Corinthians 13. Herbert gives Hope a watch. Does he think mistakenly that hope is time-bound? A present stuck in the present while hope looks patiently ahead? Or maybe the watch, a human mechanism with hands that seek to contain each moment, falsely embodies the idea that hope is human in origin and not of God, eternal in source and scope? Whatever, Hope gives an anchor in return. As John Donne’s seal reinforces, an anchor is cruciform, cross-shaped security against the dragging tides of fear, guilt, hopelessness. Hebrews 6 can’t have been far from Herbert’s or Donne’s minds when they considered the simile.
… we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf.
Look, there are some pretty swelling billows around just now. A global pandemic which is hitting home here in Australia, geo-political dangers not seen since before I was born. But,
We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll
Fastened to the rock which cannot move
Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love!