A Grateful Heart

Dear People of Alnwick,

At the end of the month — on Thursday 27th February — the Church remembers and gives thanks for the life of George Herbert, priest and poet, who died on that day in 1633.
Born in 1593 into an aristocratic family, the young George went to Cambridge University in 1614, eventually becoming a Fellow of Trinity College. At the age of 25, he became Public Orator in the University and then a Member of Parliament, apparently destined for a life at court.

To everyone’s surprise, he decided to be ordained and, he was made deacon in 1626. He married in 1629, was priested in 1630 and given the care of souls of the parish of Bemerton, near Salisbury, where he spent the rest of his short life. He wrote prolifically, his hymns still being popular throughout the English-speaking world. (Amongst the best known are: King of glory, King of peace; Let all the world in every comer sing and Teach me, my God and King.)

His treatise “The Country Parson” on the priestly life, and his poetry, especially “The Temple” earned Herbert a leading place in English literature.

He never neglected the care of the souls of Bemerton, however, and encouraged his people to pray with him daily at Morning and Evening Prayer — calling to mind the words of his hymn “Seven whole days, not one in seven, I will praise thee”.

Tucked away in the middle of his poems is a favourite of mine entitled “Gratefulness”. I’m aware that I’ve quoted its opening lines on a number of occasions but they never cease to resonate with me:

“Thou who hast giv’n so much to me,
Give one thing more, a grateful heart.”

In this month when the Church goes back into the green of “Ordinary Time” for a few weeks before Ash Wednesday and Lent, let me encourage you to concentrate on all we have to be grateful for.

We all have a roof over our heads, warmth, clothing and more than enough to eat. Most of us have a very precious gift in our family and friends and, even if our health is not as good as it might be, we have doctors, hospitals and a National Health Service that is still the envy of the world.

And, as if to crown all this, we have a faith in, and a companionship with, Jesus Christ who gave us a blessed promise in his parting words:

“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. ” (Matthew 28:20)

So, even in what many consider to be the “miserable” month of February, let us all take the opportunity to look positively at our lives, to value even the little things that increase the quality of our being and our relationships and let’s do all we can to show our gratitude to God — and to each other.

And to put us on the right track we could all take a lead from George Herbert and make those two lines from “Gratefulness” into a daily prayer.

With every blessing, as always,

P.S. May I also take the opportunity to say a particular thank you to all
who have expressed joy and sent good wishes to Jane and myself following the announcement of our engagement to be married. The warmth of your response and the encouragement you have given us means a great deal to us both.


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