Lord, with what glory wast thou serv’d of old,
When Solomons temple stood and flourished!
Where most things were of purest gold;
The wood was all embellished
With flowers and carvings, mystical and rare:
All show’d the builders, crav’d the seers care.
Yet all this glory, all this pomp and state
Did not affect thee much, was not thy aim;
Something there was, that sow’d debate:
Wherefore thou quitt’st thy ancient claim:
And now thy Architecture meets with sin;
For all thy frame and fabric is within.
There thou art struggling with a peevish heart,
Which sometimes crosseth thee, thou sometimes it:
The fight is hard on either part.
Great God doth fight, he doth submit.
All Solomons sea of brass and world of stone
Is not so dear to thee as one good groan.
And truly brass and stones are heavy things,
Tombs for the dead, not temples fit for thee:
But groans are quick, and full of wings,
And all their motions upward be;
And ever as they mount, like larks they sing;
The note is sad, yet music for a King.
This week we will be looking at one of the aspects of spiritual experience which seems to have fascinated Herbert – that of sighing and groaning! It is something he shared with St. Paul
“Even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body”
2 Corinthians 5:2 & 4
“We groan, earnestly desiring to be closed upon with our house which is from heaven… We that are in this tabernacle to groan, being burdened”
In this poem he contemplates Solomon’s great temple and all its amazing ornamentation – may be reflecting the wonderment of the disciples when they saw the temple in Jerusalem. Yet in the second verse he reflects on the deeper reality that God is not so much interested in magnificent architecture as what is going on within the human heart. In the third verse this is developed until at the end we are, perhaps, surprised by the word groan and even more so by the development in the final verse which compares groans to birds flying up into heaven! It is certainly an unusual and surprising image. Although perhaps less so when we think about the fashion for melancholic music in the court of James I, particularly as played by the famous composer and lutenist John Dowland who specialized in sorrowful songs about love.
But what role does groaning have in our spiritual life? As we have seen it is certainly a biblical theme and relates to the theological idea of the gift of tears: Pope Francis recently said ‘if we let ourselves cry, we can then recognize “the cry of the penitent, the cry of the brother and the sister who are looking upon so much human misery.”’
- What makes me groan?
- Can my groaning lift me up to heaven?
- What are the dangers of sighing and groaning?