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The Windows
Lord, how can man preach thy eternal word?
    He is a brittle crazy glass;
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford
    This glorious and transcendent place,
    To be a window, through thy grace.
But when thou dost anneal in glass thy story,
    Making thy life to shine within
The holy preachers, then the light and glory
    More reverend grows, and more doth win;
    Which else shows waterish, bleak, and thin.
Doctrine and life, colors and light, in one
    When they combine and mingle, bring
A strong regard and awe; but speech alone
    Doth vanish like a flaring thing,
    And in the ear, not conscience, ring.

This has been a great week for poetry, hasn’t it? Amanda Gorman’s electrifying reading of her poem “The Hill We Climb” was one of the highlights of the inauguration events last week. It was the perfect meeting of poet and poem with the moment—and surprised a lot of people by bringing to a massive audience the power and impact of this great art form!
Digression over—on to the Poem of the Week. This week, we’re reading George Herbert’s poem “The Windows.”
George Herbert wrote a book of poems called The Temple, in which he explored spiritual themes through poems on different parts of the church building. There are poems about the church porch, the lock and key, the floor, and the altar – a poem which is actually shaped like an altar!  And there’s the poem we just heard about the church windows.
Herbert uses the image of stained glass to reflect on the preaching of the word of God. “How can man preach thy eternal word?” he asks. He is “a brittle, crazy glass.” “Crazy” here is used in the 17th-century sense of the word, meaning “full of cracks.” Human beings are both breakable and broken, and yet, here in the Temple, God gives this fragile thing a “glorious place”: God takes this glass and makes it a window, with the light of grace.
Stained glass only comes to life when the light shines through it. It is the same with preaching, Herbert says: when the preacher’s own life is holy—that is, when it reflects the life of God—the result is “light and glory,” and the listener is won over, not to the preacher, but to God. But when there is a disconnect between the preacher’s life and what he says, it is like stained glass that no light comes through – “waterish, bleak, and thin.”
The last stanza makes Herbert’s point plainly. In preaching, “doctrine and life” must “combine and mingle,” as inseparable as the color and light that bring a stained-glass window to life. Words alone do nothing—they ring in the ear but do not touch the conscience. Herbert insists that preachers must “walk the talk”!
In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis makes a very similar point about those who preach the Gospel. He writes: “We are not asked to be flawless, but to keep growing and wanting to grow as we advance along the path of the Gospel… if [the preacher] does not take time to hear God’s word with an open heart, if he does not allow it to touch his life, to challenge him, to impel him, and if he does not devote time to pray with that word, then he will indeed be a false prophet, a fraud, a shallow impostor.”
Most of us are not called to preach the Gospel from the ambo during Mass. But that doesn’t mean we are off the hook!  By our baptism, we are a “royal priesthood,” and thus every disciple of Christ is called to proclaim the Gospel, most especially by letting it become incarnate in our lives. Every Christian can give witness; and every Christian can give scandal, too, when there is a disconnect between God’s teaching and the way we live our lives. As Pope Francis writes, “The Lord wants to make use of us as living, free and creative beings who let his word enter their own hearts before then passing it on to others. Christ’s message must truly penetrate and possess us, not just intellectually but in our entire being.”



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Seattle, Washington  98104
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