George Herbert: A meditation for Lent


At the beginning of March in 1633, sorrow came to the people of Bemerton on the outskirts of Salisbury. Their rector George Herbert, a committed pastor who had not yet reached his 40th birthday, died of consumption.

Today, Herbert is remembered as one of the greatest devotional poets in the English language. Some of his verses (such as ‘Teach me my God and King’) have been set to music as hymn lyrics, but there are many more. Poetry was how Herbert expressed his faith and talked to God. His poems can be used as prayers in much the same way as the Psalms can.

This little poem – with its three stanzas focusing on Creator, Redeemer and Inspirer, has the title ‘Trinity Sunday’. But it is also a poem of penitence and longing to do better with God’s help. So it is equally appropriate for reading during Lent.


Lord, who hast formed me out of mud,
And hast redeemed me through thy blood,
And sanctified me to do good;

Purge all my sins done heretofore:
For I confess my heavy score,
And I will strive to sin no more.

Enrich my heart, mouth, hands in me,
With faith, with hope, with charity;
That I may run, rise, rest with thee.


Herbert’s poems have helped many during times of difficulty and doubt. His earthly life was short, but his legacy is a long one.



Author Stephen Cottrell
Publisher Hodder & Stoughton £14.99
Format hbk
ISBN 9781399805247

Subtitled ‘The Cross – The Greatest Hope of All’, the author, the present Archbishop of York, offers a series of reflections seeking ‘to reveal the deepest truth about God’s passionate involvement with the world he loves…’ He begins by quoting Jürgen Moltmann: ‘In the midst of the unbearable story of the passion of the world, we can discover the reconciling story of the passion of Christ.’ Across seven chapters drawing specifically on Mark’s Gospel, each ending with a set of questions, the author seeks to reveal that deepest truth.

Chapter One ‘It is wise to remember that Jesus didn’t speak English’ challenges the reader as to how we translate into the cultures and languages of today, the story, beliefs and values that we see and receive in Jesus Christ? The author notes correctly and sadly the potential for nuance and meaning being lost literally in Bible translations down through the years.

Chapter Two ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ is the opening line of Psalm 22. The author challenges the reader to learn a Psalm (perhaps not starting with 119 though…) by heart as a way of beginning to restore ‘the spiritual and liturgical disciplines that were so much a part of the Christian formation of our forebears have fallen into disuse’. Bonhoeffer is quoted: ‘A Christian community without the Psalter has lost an incomparable treasure and by taking it back into use will recover resources it never dreamed it had.’

Chapter Three ‘Because Jesus’ terrible cry of dereliction is the opening line of Psalm 22 it leads us into this psalm in its entirety and helps us understand what the cross means.’ The author reminds us that this particular Psalm was sung (to the tune of The Deer of the Dawn) and that Jesus would have remembered singing it. The cross is real. It is horribly real. It is real horror and real pain… Yet in the midst of our own real pains when we worship, we are taken into something bigger than ourselves. For at worship’s heart, I believe, we find Jesus. William Temple is quoted: “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.”

Chapter Four ‘When Jesus cried out ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani’ the people standing at the foot of the cross misunderstood him.’ The author reminds the reader that the one who has such a heart of love and was so moved with pity for those who were forsaken will himself become forsaken, unrecognised, unheard and misunderstood: he will, upon the cross, become the one who is abandoned. The author further reminds of the importance of understanding and receiving this as believers.

Chapter Five ‘The words that Jesus cries out as he dies are terrifying: My God, my God why have you forsaken me?’ The author challenges the reader to consider that ‘no amount of clever explaining away eliminates or reduces the stupefying horror that maybe, just maybe, in those final agonising moments Jesus himself stopped believing in God, stopped reckoning himself the Messiah, was utterly defeated and abandoned. Isn’t this what the words actually mean? Or is it? Is there something else?’ As one who is all for Archbishops and Bishops speaking out to the world around us, I equally appreciate them speaking out to the church and making us, the church, think and pray.

Chapter Six ‘As Jesus dies on the cross, Mark tells us there was darkness over the land (Mark 15.33).’ The author challenges us to meditate and wrestle with the thought that ‘God is forsaken by God… There is, if we can even begin to imagine such a thing, a kind of breakdown in the very life of the Trinity… We know that being human means being frail and mortal. We suffer. We die. God now knows that too.’ The book is worth it for this chapter alone.

Finally, Chapter Seven ‘Jesus’ howl of anguish from the cross is the cry of the human soul in all its suffering and the sign that our humanity in all its joy and sadness is taken into the life of God in the Trinity.’ The author challenges us to stand under the cross to understand it, recognises that understanding will always be elusive, yet knows that Jesus has created for us on and through the cross a relationship with God and that relationships only work when we enter into them.

I highly recommend this profound book to all and not just for reading during Lent and Holy Week. In my opinion, it does indeed reveal the deepest truth about God’s passionate involvement with the world He loves.

Reviewed by ANDREW CARR


Lent and Holy Week




Author Emma Ineson
Publisher SPCK £10.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9780281087846

The subtitle is ‘What Jesus said about sin, mistakes and messing stuff up.’ Emma Ineson was until recently the ‘Bishop at Lambeth’, working closely with Archbishops Justin and Stephen, so in many ways her work was at the essential core of the Church of England. I therefore wondered, before I opened this book, whether (perhaps subconsciously) it had been influenced by the perception that our church had indeed ‘messed stuff up’ in the last two or three years.

But that was rather an unworthy thought, for this is a good book on the ‘theology of failure’. Bishop Emma applies it both to the Christian church and more especially to us as individuals, using Bible passages dominated by the gospels and looking at Jesus’ own thoughts and actions. If we are led to consider our own inadequacies, we may be comforted by the failures of the disciples, especially as recorded in Mark.

The chapters are designed for a Lenten journey and take the reader through a careful, nuanced definition of failure; the nature of sin (using especially Romans chapter 5); our responsibilities to acknowledge sin; failure and the church; and how to live well with failure. The climax of course comes with Holy Week and Good Friday – the perceived utter failure of Jesus himself when, briefly, he felt separated from God.

I personally found the whole book absorbing, useful and thought-provoking, but I was left wondering whether a ‘fringe member’ of our church would feel the same. Will they falter on the notion of sin? Will they focus too much on the current (very public) problems and divisions in the Church of England? But the final chapters will I think move us all – whatever the state of our faith – towards hope and fulfilment. The solemnity of Lent always gives way to Easter joy. This book is therefore warmly recommended as one that should strengthen and deepen Christian faith.

Reviewed by KATE BURTON


The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book


Images of Grace

Images of Grace

Author Amy Scott Robinson
Publisher BRF. £9.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9781800391178

The BRF Lent Book for 2023, sub-titled ‘A Journey from Darkness to Light at Easter’ takes the reader day by day on exactly that journey. Amy Scott Robinson was inspired to write this book because she felt that abstract nouns, such as sin and grace, although in frequent use, might be misunderstood – or given a different meaning – by many people. The book is based on the idea that the use of images helps this understanding. These images vary from a few words, to extended metaphors, to whole stories – but all help us to understand Christian concepts.

The book is divided into weekly sections, covering sin and repentance, forgiveness, atonement, restoration, reconciliation and ends with Holy Week. Each day has a Bible reading, commentary, a question and a prayer and, at the end of each week, there is a set of questions, which makes the book suitable for group activity. The commentary which Amy Scott Robinson gives each day is invariably pertinent and engaging and involves personal and literary examples, as well as providing a thoughtful interpretation of the passage. The question demands the reader applies the material to his/her own life. As a Lent book I recommend this for personal or for group use.



Lenten devotion


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