Poems of Pursuit (Part 2)

batter my heart

“You hem me in, behind and before,” said David in what is now known as Psalm 139.  A friend recently confessed that for the longest time, she had envisioned this image in terms of sewing: of being carefully tucked into place and stitched in safely.  It had come as a bit of a shock when she first realized that the warrior poet was most likely describing God’s activity in the military terms of surrounding and besieging.  I think we (at least those of us here in America, in upper middle class comfort) tend to gravitate toward more domestic images.  We like to think of God as cozy, familiar, and–to be honest–tame.  We like to think of ourselves as the ones acting, even when the repetitively ineffective motions wear us out.

A few weeks ago, our church small group watched a portion of a talk given by Erwin McManus. At one point, he described a conversation with a woman exhausted by what she saw as her pursuit for meaning, for God. “I feel like I’m running around a building, but can’t find a door in,” she said. McManus noted the poignancy of the image, but commented that her perception of the situation was the inverse of the reality: she was actually the building and God was running around her. He was besieging her, seeking a way in–in essence, hemming her in.  With that knowledge, came relief.

This second unlikely Advent poem is a cry from a heart that recognizes God’s pursuit and realizes its own inability to respond, despite its desires to do so.  However, because God is the one who hems in, who is active in His chase, we have hope.

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
(John Donne)

Thank God that the end of Advent–the fullness of His Life bursting into the stale confines our own endeavors–has come and will come because of His faithfulness and agency, not our own.

See Part 1 here


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