At this time of year, in Australia, the bottlebrush trees (Callistemon) along our driveway are covered with crimson blooms and attract a host of happy birds that feast on the nectar and seeds. For most of the year, these trees are rather austere in their grey-green foliage, but come October, they break out in this rich red splendour and I find the transformation quite uplifting and inspiring.
The recent reappearance of these masses of rich, red blossoms has reminded me again of the poignant and exquisite verses that make up George Matheson’s hymn, ‘O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go‘
Matheson said about this hymn: “My hymn was composed in the manse of Innelan [Argyleshire, Scotland] on the evening of the 6th of June, 1882, when I was 40 years of age. I was alone in the manse at that time. It was the night of my sister’s marriage, and the rest of the family were staying overnight in Glasgow. Something happened to me, which was known only to myself, and which caused me the most severe mental suffering. The hymn was the fruit of that suffering.
It was the quickest bit of work I ever did in my life. I had the impression of having it dictated to me by some inward voice rather than of working it out myself. I’m quite sure that the whole work was completed in five minutes, and equally sure that it never received at my hands any retouching or correction. I have no natural gift of rhythm. All the other verses I have ever written are manufactured articles; this came like a dayspring from on high.”
In the early years, my attention was all on the fleeting ‘waves’ but now at last I’ve come home, so to speak, in or as the ocean depths of God. And how I clung to my ‘flickering torch’ until, loved, chastened and finally illumined by that infinite forebearing Light, all was surrendered — I lay in dust ‘my’ life’s glory dead, as Matheson put it, and from the ground (of being) there blossomed that ‘eternal’ life that has neither beginning nor end.
Here are the words again, and I hope they will encourage your heart in new ways as they have done for me.
O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.