None Other Lamb  

Posted by Denis Haack in , ,


Yesterday the hymn for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in church was Christina Rossetti’s “None Other Lamb.” I love its simplicity, the elegant way it captures the yearning of my heart, the way Rossetti surprises us with the images she paints in words so that we see things more clearly.

 

The first verse is a meditation on Christ, taking an impulse from Eden that captures the horror of the Fall and redeeming it. Adam and Eve, suddenly exposed in their pride and refusal to live by God’s gracious word, wanted nothing more than to hide. To hide from God, behind leaves. But now, in Christ, Rossetti has us hide again, but this time in forgiveness and acceptance.

 

None other Lamb, none other Name,

None other hope in Heav’n or earth or sea,

None other hiding place from guilt and shame,

None beside Thee!

 

It was the second verse that stunned me this time. For the past several months we have had a sharper than ordinary sense that a struggle is raging around us. No one thing stands out, particularly, but the details keep piling up and as they do my impression is that of an external force, pushing back. Friends suddenly struck down by accusations. Church leaders setting policies which appear biblical but which strangle mercy. Income to Ransom so low we wonder how much longer we can continue. I have been burned out before, but this is not that. Burn out is internal; this seems to be external.

 

As I sat in church I discovered I had run out of words to pray. All I could do is sit in silence. And then her second verse named exactly where I was, and am. Sometimes words fail, but heart’s desire thunders.

 

My faith burns low, my hope burns low;

Only my heart’s desire cries out in me

By the deep thunder of its want and woe,

Cries out to Thee.

 

I ate the bread and drank the wine, feeding by faith on Christ’s body and blood, knowing my wordlessness was heard. It’s called grace.

 

Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) has long fascinated me. From a very artistic family, her brothers, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Rossetti helped launch what became known as the Pre-Raphaelite movement in art. Other artists associated with them were William Holman Hunt and James McNeill Whistler. Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland, was a frequent visitor in their home.

 

Besides distinguishing herself as a poet—for which I am ever so grateful—Christina also posed as a model for several of the Pre-Raphaelite painters. The two images I have posted here are both by Christina’s brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The first is a portrait of his sister; the second is titled “Ecce Ancilla Domini,” a painting of the Annunciation, painted in 1850, that uses her as the model for Mary. Rather than Mary passively receiving the news of the angel, as most painters have traditionally depicted the event, this image contains a hint of tension. It looks like Mary has been perhaps suddenly awakened, and that this news, no matter how glorious, is an interruption, and not without reason to wonder, if not fear.


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2 comments

Denis, Christina Rossetti has been one of my long-tine favorites, too. This is very unfair, I'm sure, but sometimes I tell people "She's like Emily Dickinson, but with hope". And what a family! One of her biographies mentions that the Rossetti children would have "sonnet races"- pick a subject and see who is fastest and best!
I think she is sometimes overlooked and considered out of vogue for her devotional poetry, but I love the sweetness of it.
A favorite:
Give me the lowest place: not that I dare
Ask for that lowest place, but Thou hast died
That I might live and share
Thy glory by Thy side

Give me the lowest place: or if for me
That lowest place too high, make one more low
Where I may sit and see
My God and love Thee so.

Forgive the rambling, Denis But I I recommend Kathleen Jones' Learning Not To Be First as a very good Christina Rossetti biography.

Thanks for the joy.

August 12, 2008 at 1:00 PM

Katy, maybe Hillary needs to read Rossetti's biography. Okay. Me, too. mlh

August 13, 2008 at 8:31 AM

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