By my purely personal estimation, the seven verses of John Bell’s modern classic, “Take, O Take Me As I Am”1, lack the intimacy, the hope, the power of the refrain:
“Take, O take me as I am, summon out what I shall be, set your seal upon my heart, and live in me.”
The hymn conveys Christian faith in a conventional, arguably flaccid recitation of sacramental devotion that marks the redemption of a flawed and failed people by a loving God. It is lovely and, quibbles aside, a devotional favorite.
Yet, my friend died of brain cancer two days shy of his 31st sobriety anniversary. For him, the vaunted AA promises fell short and his quest for a robust faith, an animating, energizing “Higher Power” was unrewarded. His attempts at prayer brought him only to a place of “spiritual aridity”, as my mother would say. Take, O take me as I am… summon out what I shall be… was your seal upon my heart?... could you have lived in me?
My Alanon sponsee just called to say his spouse is in detox again, six months after the six-week rehab last winter, the stint that followed the six-week rehab last summer. He is frustrated and angry; she is sick and resentful. Take, O take me as I am… summon out what I shall be… is your seal upon my heart?... will you live in me?
This morning, lingering in bed, unable to doze and unready to fully waken, I longed for my children, who were born in the flush of my early sobriety, and from whom I am long estranged, even as I advance in my fourth decade of recovery, praying for release from selfish resentments, theirs and mine. Take, O take me as I am… summon out what I shall be… set your seal upon my heart… please, dwell in me, O Lord, I beg of you.
As we grudgingly, imperfectly, even futilely “work” the steps and “practice” our faith, Christ’s promise that eclipses all others is that he already takes us as we are. It’s why he came. However, even he can only summon what we shall be when we, like Magdalen, like Peter, and unlike that “certain young ruler” surrender our stuff, our status, our selves. Only then, do we have the desire and the capacity to receive all that redeeming Love, to meet I Am, to be in communion with the Source of Unconditional Love.
O Lord, awaken me, anoint me, animate me, abide in me… for
We, the broken and ashamed,
we in chaos live untamed,
we can hardly speak your name,
But, you, O Lord:
Take, O take us as we are
By your grace we come alive
Mark us as your saints to thrive
Within your love.
1 John L. Bell, Copyright, 1995 Wild Goose Resource Group, Iona Community GIA Publications, Inc. agent.