In college I studied literature and I would absorb it like a dry sponge. My professor, Dr. Graddy, taught Renaissance and Victorian literature and often would read passages aloud to help us hear the richness of the verse.
The Collar by George Herbert (1593-1633) was one of those pieces. As we listened, Dr. Graddy described the desire to walk away from all the speaker knew, to be “free” to choose whatever was desired. My lines and life are free, free as the road. Loose as the wind, as large as store (l. 4-5). We heard the wistfulness and understood the longing. And yet.
We students could also hear the desire to be found, to be wanted, to be called for, But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild/ At every word, Methought I heard one calling, ‘Child!’ And I replied, ‘My Lord!’
The poem has followed me for over twenty-five years, haunting me, encouraging me. Reminding me of God’s pursuit of our hearts and souls. Francis Thompson (1859-1907) wrote about this very pursuit as well in The Hound of Heaven.
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter. (l.1-5).
Once again, the speaker tries to run from the God of Heaven, only to find He has been pursuing the runner all along. Not as a scold or a tormentor, but as a lover. As One who longs to show the preciousness and tenderness of His love for the one He pursues.
‘Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught’ (He said),
‘And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!’ (l. 161-176)
We will try to run from God during our lives due to mistakes, belief of worthlessness, but He longs to pursue us. He wants us to embrace the blessing of a relationship with Him. Sometimes we keep running, no matter how we are pursued. God doesn’t give up, but He does allow us to keep going away, further and further from the very love He offers.
Even then, when we have run a 1,000 miles, if we stop and turn to God, we will find that we only have to take one step toward Him and find that He has been there all the while.
O Best Beloved, is it time to stop running? Is it time to rise, take God’s hand, and trust Him with your days, your future, your soul? Jeremiah 31:3 says, The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.
God is not trying to punish you for whatever wrongs you have done. He desires to make right these wrongs, through His mercies, His ever-amazing Grace. All you have to do is turn to your Heavenly pursuer and hold out your hand.
Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David (Isaiah 55:3).