Our spiritual journey in the poetry workshop of the soul begins with a supreme surprise. Instead of beginning by working toward fruitfulness, we're invited to relish our relationship with God--to feast, to drink. The awe-filled work of grace is that we give out of our appreciation for a remarkable heart gift we could never possibly earn.
Ironically this first work is difficult to do. It's Christmas day in our souls, but we're afraid to unwrap the huge, shiny red-and-green present. George Herbert captures the paradox of this struggle beautifully in his poem "Love (III)":
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack'd anything
A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
In the poem the narrator tells Love (God) every reason why he doesn't deserve grace. Finally he is struck by the paradoxical recognition of what Love offers him, and his immediate response is to want to serve. Love, however, has a different idea: your work is merely to sit down and eat he says tenderly. Please, be my guest. Keep the feast.
..."We love," says the apostle John, "because he first loved us" (1 Jn 4:19). And as Herbert's poem says so eloquently, the first service we offer God is to taste the grace he freely offers us. Only then can we offer it to others.