Thursday, March 26, 2015

George Herbert, Jane Austen, and My Forty-Seventh Birthday

It's my forty-seventh birthday, and I woke up thinking about people who have died young.

Heh. Don't worry. I am not feeling terribly morose (far from's been a lovely day) and that comment is not nearly as somber as it sounds. I just found myself reflecting on the Scriptural admonition "teach us to number our days," and thinking about people who gifted the world even during very brief sojourns.

This has been on my mind since I read Timothy George's essay "George Herbert in Lent," the other day at First Things. I either didn't know or at least didn't recall that George Herbert, the extraordinary Anglican poet and priest, died in March of 1633, just short of his 40th birthday. I'm pretty sure that I never realized before now that he never saw any of his poems published. He left them to his friend Nicholas Ferrar; they were all published after his death.

I suspect that both George Herbert and Jane Austen, who died at the age of 41, would be astounded at the strength of their legacies so long after their deaths. They were quiet people whose influence, during their lifetimes, was in relatively small spheres. And yet their influence, their creative power, has spread to so many others, in ever widening circles as the years pass. While it's true that not all of us have the creative genius of these two, I think that the imprint they left behind doesn't have to do only with their words, but with the faithful lives they lived and the quiet but faithful ways they used the gifts they were given. I love the Richard Baxter quote that Timothy George provided regarding Herbert: he was "“a man who speaks to God like one that really believeth a God, and whose business in the world is most with God.”

The older I get, the more I begin to realize that it's the quiet but loving moments that may have the most staying power in my own life, and the most influence for good on people I'll eventually leave behind. Those circles of quiet and loving influence feel so big in my own life. I know, I know. Sober sounding reflections for a 47th birthday. But right now I'm not feeling particularly glum about how old I am, just tremendously grateful for the years I've been given so far and hopeful that in the years ahead, I can stay a faithful course and love even more deeply. I'd like someone to be able to say about me one day that she is "a woman who speaks to God like someone who really believes in God, and her business in the world is most with God."  That's a legacy worth having.

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