Tag Archives: George Herbert

Experiential Spirituality: Peter Rollins (Part 7 of 7)

rollins book 2The post-modern pastor and theologian Peter Rollins (1973-Present) is the eleventh and final travel guide along this journey. Growing up in Northern Ireland during the post-Christendom shift of the late-20th century, Rollins embraced the mystical writings of Meister Eckhart and others [2012, xiv]. This led Rollins to promote having a sense of doubt, unknowing and uncertainty within the Christian walk as intellectual theology will never fully capture the Living God. Faith, to Rollins, is “analogous to the experience of an infant feeling the embrace and tender kiss of its mother” [2012, 1].

This does not mean that Rollins is against theology; rather he sees theology as “reflecting upon” the God who “grasps us” [2012, 1]. This embracement of the mystical experience of God all comes down to love. God is personally in love with humanity just as his followers are to be passionately in love with him and their fellow humans. This is a love that “cannot be worked up but is gained only as we give up” and let ourselves become a “dwelling place in which God can reside and from which God can flow” [2015, 75].

Rollins and Williams are fitting ends to this journey along the experiential spirituality path of the last five-hundred years. Both of them are helping the 21st century church retain and explore the value of experiencing the Living God within an intimate ongoing relationship. As St. Ignatius, St. Teresa, Blaise Pascal, Brother Lawrence, St. Thérèse, Martin Luther, John Calvin, George Herbert, and William Seymour taught before them, God is a living God who seeks a personal on-going relationship with his people. Rather than been content to believe a doctrine, however orthodox that doctrine is, or with having a  one-time born-again experience, the people of God are to follow the advice of St. James, the half-brother of Jesus of Nazareth, and “draw near to God” as he “will draw near to [them]” [Ja 4:8].



Rollins, Peter. 2012. How (Not) to Speak of God. Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press

Experiential Spirituality: John Calvin and George Herbert (Part 5 of 7)

calvin picJohn Calvin (1509-1564) was another Reformer who laid the foundation for people to experience the Living God in all areas of their lives. In the first chapter of his famous Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life (a booklet containing a central part of his longer Institutes of the Christian Religion), Calvin expands on the danger of an external, purely rational faith. Rather than be content with an intellectual faith, Calvin encourages the followers of Jesus to allow God to transform every part of their lives:

“The gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life. It cannot be grasped by reason and memory only, but it is fully understood when it possesses the whole soul and penetrates to the inner recesses of the heart…our religion will be unprofitable if it does not change our heart, pervade our manners, and transform us into new creatures.” [2008, 20-21]

In writing these words, Calvin was trying to get beyond the tendency of humanity to profess one thing with their mouth and another with their lives. However in doing so, Calvin also laid the foundation for a personal encounter with Jesus that goes beyond anything he would have anticipated.

The foundation laid by both Luther and Calvin for an experiential spirituality came together about a hundred years later within Anglicanism, which retained some of its Roman Catholic roots [Olson 1999,429-449]. The person most readily associated with this experiential mysticism is George Herbert, our eighth travel guide. Born into an aristocratic English family, Herbert (1593-1633) was an Anglican priest and poet who greatly influenced the soul of Anglicanism. His sense of connection and passion with Jesus is so powerful that a reader of his poems cannot but know that Herbert was “truly touched and amazed with the Majesty of God” as he encouraged all parsons and priests to be [1981, 60].

To be continued….



Calvin, John. 2008. Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life. Ed. Henry J. Van Andel. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Herbert, George. 1981. George Herbert: The Country Parson, The Temple. Ed. John N. Wall, Jr. New York: Paulist Press.

George Herbert: The Country Parson and the Temple

george herbertBorn in 1593 into an aristocratic English family, George Herbert was educated at Westminster School and Cambridge University. After graduating from Cambridge, Herbert served in the Parliament for one term (1624) as the representative of Montgomeryshire in support of King James’ peaceful policies towards Spain. Once that term was over, Herbert returned to his original career goal of becoming a priest in Church of England.  Accordingly, Herbert was ordained as a deacon in the fall of 1624 and a priest in 1630. Shortly before his ordination into the priesthood, Herbert had married Jane Danvers on March 5, 1629. Together they moved to Bemerton, a small rural village in the south of England, where Herbert was the parish rector until his death in 1633.

Both of Herbert’s works (“The Country Parson” and “The Temple”) were published after his death, making it hard to determine the actual date in which they were written. In the intro to “The Country Parson,” Herbert writes that he “resolved to set down the Form and Character of a true Pastor, that I may have a Mark to aim at” (page 54). With this in mind, it is assumed that Herbert pinned most of the work in the five years between when he was ordinated as a deacon and then a priest. The content of the work carries with it the assumption that everyone living in England at the time was a member of the Church of England. The goal of a parish pastor was then to be “the Deputy of Christ for the reducing of Man to the Obedience of God” through teaching and personal example (page 31).

The second major work of Herbert is a collection of religious poems written at various points in Herbert’s life. Combined into one volume, “The Temple” is divided into three sections with individual poems fitting the tone of their section. The first section, “The Church Porch”, is actually one long poem akin to Proverbs with practical advice for believers. The second section was simply called “The Church” and focuses on the prayers of the believers with echoes of Psalms and The Song of Solomon within the poems. The third and final section, “The Church Militant,” include poems about the history of the church similar to how the Old Testament narrative talk about the history of the people of Israel.

The poems themselves were filled with biblical language and imaginary. A.C. Charity called the technique that Herbert used “applied typology” as he used the typological language of the Bible to talk about present reality rather than a past event (page 41-42). The poem “Aaron” is a perfect example of this technique as Herbert contracts the actions of Aaron the High Priest with his own situations in being a country parson. Another technique that Herbert used was pattern poetry with the shape of the words on the page reflecting the content of the poem.  “The Altar” is an example of this type of poems with the words of poem creating a picture of an altar while talking an altar.

While not a poetic connoisseur, the poems of “The Temple” did strike me as beautiful and carrying within them a lasting quality. I like how they are packed full of biblical typology and imaginary while relating to the practical world of life. “The Church Porch” was my favorite poem with the first half carrying the best material. “Jesu” was also a favorite with the imaginary of breaking Jesus’ name with our actions only to discover that he is the one who eases our pain.

“The Country Parson,” on the other hand, seemed to me to be one of rules and regulations. I understand what Herbert was trying to do; yet I personally find that such a high mark becomes a heavy burden to bear rather than a target to aim towards. In this, Herbert’s work reminded me of Gregory the Great’s book “Pastoral Care.” However, even with such a danger, both works have a vein of gold within them that can and should be mined.