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George Herbert
The Holy Scriptures II
OH that I knew how all thy lights combine,
             And the configurations of their glorie!
             Seeing not onely how each verse doth shine,
But all the constellations of the storie.
This verse marks that, and both do make a motion
             Unto a third, that ten leaves off doth lie:
             Then as dispersed herbs do watch a potion,
These three make up some Christians destinie:
Such are thy secrets, which my life makes good,
             And comments on thee: for in ev’ry thing
             Thy words do finde me out, & parallels bring,
And in another make me understood.
             Starres are poore books, & oftentimes do misse:
             This book of starres lights to eternall blisse.
We met George Herbert earlier in this series, when we read his poem “Easter Wings.” Herbert was many things—a well-born and well-connected man of the world, and a country parson. His contemporaries marveled at his faith. One biographer wrote that Herbert “never mentioned the name of Jesus Christ, but with this addition, ‘My Master,’” and that when it came to the Bible, he would say “That he would not part with one leaf thereof for the whole world.” He called the Bible “the book of books,” “the storehouse and magazine of life and comfort.”
In this sonnet about the Holy Scriptures, Herbert gives us an insight into how he himself read the Bible. Anyone who has been scanning the skies looking for Comet Neowise will appreciate Herbert’s metaphor at the beginning of the poem. “Oh, that I knew how all thy lights combine, / And the configurations of their glory!” The verses of the Scriptures are likened to stars, which are beautiful in themselves, but which also relate to each other in wonderful ways—forming “constellations.” The Scriptures mean more in relation to each other: just as different herbs, mixed together, become a healing medicine, a powerful “potion,” so different verses, combined, “make up some Christian’s destiny”—in other words, reading the Scriptures makes sense of our lives. And our lives make sense of the Scriptures: “such are thy secrets, which my life makes good, / And comments on thee…. Thy words do find me out, and parallels bring.”
The right way to read the Scriptures, Herbert suggests, is with open eyes and imagination, letting the Scriptures speak to one another—since one passage can shed light on another. But we also need to let the Scriptures read us, since we can only understand our own lives, our “destiny,” in light of the Scriptures. “Stars are poor books,” Herbert concludes, but the Bible, “this book of stars,” shows the way to “eternal bliss.”
I thought this poem was especially appropriate as we have begun a Year of the Eucharist in this local Church, the Archdiocese of Seattle. Every time we gather around the altar to celebrate the Eucharist, we first gather around the ambo—the table of the word of God.  And when the Scriptures are proclaimed, something happens. As it says in the introduction to the Roman Missal, “God speaks to his people, opening up to them the mystery of redemption and salvation, and offering spiritual nourishment; and Christ himself is present through his word in the midst of the faithful.”
The Liturgy of the Word at Mass is not a review of salvation history. It is a conversation. We are invited to a way of reading, praying, and reflecting on Scripture that is not unlike what Herbert describes in his poem. The readings from the Old and New Testaments speak to each other and shed light on each other—and they speak to us and shed light on our lives, too. As Archbishop Etienne wrote in “The Work of Redemption,” his Pastoral Letter for this Year of the Eucharist, “When we allow ourselves to listen, really listen, to what the Scriptures are saying to us in our own lives and to the reality we are living in, extraordinary things can happen. When we honestly reflect on our lives and the challenges we face as a society in light of the Scriptures, we open ourselves up to God’s transforming power.”
One of Herbert’s first biographers wrote, “Next God the Word, he loved the Word of God.” May the same be said of each of us!



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Seattle, Washington  98104
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