Give me simplicity, that I may live
A couple of months ago I was invited to undertake a commission to paint an abstract painting responding to George Herbert’s (1593-1633) poem A Wreath, and whilst this is perhaps not one of his most well-known poems, it is a very beautiful poem:
A wreathèd garland of deservèd praise,
Of praise deservèd, unto Thee I give,
I give to Thee, who knowest all my ways,
My crooked winding ways, wherein I live,—
Wherein I die, not live ; for life is straight,
Straight as a line, and ever tends to Thee,
To Thee, who art more far above deceit,
Than deceit seems above simplicity.
Give me simplicity, that I may live,
So live and like, that I may know Thy ways,
Know them and practise them: then shall I give
For this poor wreath, give Thee a crown of praise.
As I began to think about this - my paintings start with a lot of thought and prayer – it seemed to me that this was an important poem to live with during the Covid-19 crisis with all its associated distress: furlough, closed schools and churches, self-isolation, food crises, domestic violence, many deaths etc.; but also the many positive things for which we are so thankful: heroic actions by the NHS and carers, kindnesses, a slower pace of life, time to pray and reflect, and some glorious weather, clear skies and silence.
So the painting needed to reflect something of life’s journey (it is to be a 70th birthday present); the poem’s circularity (the end of a line is picked up in the next line) seemed to echo life in lock-down (“What day is it today?” “Another day shut in at home.”); and to reveal our hope, feeling and knowing that our lives are in God’s hands as we live towards God who is the one who loves us into being, images of Christ.
Following the poem, for me, once the problems of home deliveries were mastered, there has been a simplicity so that with the Psalmist I can pray, “Hope in God for I shall yet praise Him my ever present help and my God.” (Ps 42.v11, ).
I hope the painting suggests something of this.