A Christmas Wreath from George Herbert

With the Christmas season going at full blast, I’m reminded once again that for most of us Americans, Christmas is not a season of quiet reflection, but a season stuffed with stressful activity.

We have a myriad of gifts to buy. We have entire houses to decorate. We have a month’s worth of program rehearsals and performances to attend. We have Christmas dinners to prepare. We have the department get-together to organize. We have…busyness.

These activities are important, but the sheer number them can leave us exhausted and overstimulated. Sadly, we can go through the season without slowing down and actually reflecting on its meaning.

Lately, I’ve been trying to clean the clutter out of my own life and help myself re-focus. One way I’ve been doing this is by memorizing the poem “A Wreath” by George Herbert:

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 practice them: then shall I give
For this poor wreath, give Thee a crown of praise.

I love this poem, first, because it is simply beautiful. The poem is a wreath in its form, with the wording of each line intertwining into the next. And like a wreath, it has a circular structure, with the first line of the poem hearkening “back” to the thought of the final line. The poem’s simple beauty is breathtaking.

Second, it’s a prayer for simplicity. The poet knows that a meaningful life is not one of constant activity, but one lived with the simple focus of a relationship with the Creator. “Give me simplicity,” the poet says, “that I may know Thy ways.”

I desire the same simplicity that the poet asks for in this poem. In my efforts to pursue simplicity, I’ve been asking myself some questions lately:

  • How do I begin my day? Do I begin the day with twenty minutes of surfing the web, or with something more productive, such as writing, reading, or praying?
  • How quiet is my soul throughout the day? Is my soul cluttered with stress and busy activity, or am I making choices in tune with my higher purpose?
  • How still is my mind? How cluttered is my concentration? Do I need to be doing two or three things at once? Do I need to be listening to Christmas music constantly? Instead, I can have a simple, quiet focus on what I’m doing.
  • How am I taking care of myself physically right now? Do I need to be stuffing myself with all this holiday food, or can I demonstrate a holistic stewardship of the physical aspect of my being?
  • How are my relationships? Am I so busy with Christmas activities that I fail to truly connect with my family and my friends? Why not plan an evening for friends to come over for a simple dinner and some good, stress-vaporizing conversation?

In the Christmas season, it’s easy to get so busy that we lose the time to slow down and capture the moments of beauty around us. We lose our creative edge. We lose our inner stillness. We also fail to connect with ourselves, our family and friends, and with our Creator.

This Christmas season, I’m pursuing the same sense of simplicity that George Herbert found.


Nathan Huffstutler lives in Watertown, Wisconsin, where he teaches writing and literature at Maranatha Baptist University.

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