Scour the Horse

Pansies and daisy peek out of my flower beds, laughing with the sunshine and drinking in the rain. But they have to peek because the weeds have outgrown them. Again and again the weeds invade. With summertime in Texas and being seven months pregnant, it's been too long since I pulled them up. The weeds grow faster and higher than the flowers. By now the flowers are twisted through with shoots of green that oughtn’t to be there, and while their colors are still vibrant and beautiful, it makes me wince to even look at my flower beds.

But there are worse weeds around us. The Bible uses the imagery of gardening to speak of God’s blessings to His people, and our growth in sanctification is called “fruit” over and over again. Fruit can be choked out by the weeds. And too often it’s the weeds we hardly notice that do the worst damage. The small things that slip under our radar while we forget to pay attention. Weeds always start small. Inconsequential looking things, barely peeking through the dirt. But their roots sink deep.

A small twisting of scripture. A tiny idol creeping in. A shuffle step backward on the path we’re supposed to be walking. And the weed starts to grow. It wraps around our hearts with a soft touch at first. And it never comes alone. Once one weed sprouts, more spring up like the infestation they are.

It creeps into our culture. Then into our churches. Then our lives. Small bends. Little cave ins. Just that moment of wondering if the voices screaming from the world might not be as wrong as the Bible tells us they are…

On the English Salisbury Plain the figure of a white horse is carved from the grass of a chalk hill. Today it stands as a huge monument to the battle of Ethandun, fought by King Alfred in 878, which routed the pagan Danes and made it safe for Christians in England for the first time in long years. In his Ballad of the White Horse, G.K. Chesterton tells us the horse had been there long before Alfred, until its origins were obscure even in the king’s time. The ballad ends with an elderly King Alfred, battle weary yet at peace for a few moments, at the scene of his great victory from years before; Ethandun, where the weeds and grass are again being scoured so the white chalk figure of a great horse shines in the sun. News comes of new enemies on his border, and with it comes doubt that the kingdom can stand against more raids. Chesterton gives us the king’s response:

Then Alfred smiled. And the smile of him
Was like the sun for power.
But he only pointed: bade them heed
Those peasants of the Berkshire breed,
Who plucked the old Horse of the weed
As they pluck it to this hour.

"Will ye part with the weeds for ever?
Or show daisies to the door?
Or will you bid the bold grass
Go, and return no more?

"So ceaseless and so secret
Thrive terror and theft set free;
Treason and shame shall come to pass
While one weed flowers in a morass;
And like the stillness of stiff grass
The stillness of tyranny.

"Over our white souls also
Wild heresies and high
Wave prouder than the plumes of grass,
And sadder than their sigh.

"And I go riding against the raid,
And ye know not where I am;
But ye shall know in a day or year,
When one green star of grass grows here;
Chaos has charged you, charger and spear,
Battle-axe and battering-ram.

"And though skies alter and empires melt,
This word shall still be true:
If we would have the horse of old,
Scour ye the horse anew.”

Our souls are to be as the old creeds; white against the dark screams and schemes of the world. Pure and stately and vividly visible to anyone who will look at us. Signposts that point straight up to the God who grants us the ability to be different, holy, other than the world around us. It starts with us, and then we help our churches to stand as larger, more visible snow-white mirrors of the God who is “Holy, holy, holy.” And if our churches stand, it gives the culture a reason to pause and consider what we hold.

And yet the weeds creep in.

Scour the horse anew.

As long as the curse remains the scouring will be needed. Every day, every year, by every generation. The weeds will come in different varieties. Each time we go at the work we will find new species creeping in, with roots that run deep in the black earth. It’s those who give up on the weeding that see the effacing of the age-old monuments on the hills.

But even then, when the weeds overrun it all and only traces can barely be made out of the old things, of the good white beauty beneath, renewal can come. If you look up pictures of the White Horse of Ethandun, you will see a variety of horses. Different generations have had to remake the horse. To scour it anew, and chase back the weeds until the picture can be seen. Of course that’s a simile that fails to some extent when it comes to the old creeds, because the truths of God don’t change. We may see them differently, but the picture they form will never actually be different than what God gave us at the very beginning of our faith. But it is worth remembering that even in the human-made monuments, weeds creep in and new generations have to be the ones to choose to bring the old things to light again.

Scour the horse anew.

Watch the weeds. They are strong and virile and so easily overshadow the mirror we are supposed to be. If the Son can’t reflect off the mirror for the weeds in the way, what sort of a reflection will we offer to those looking at us? Nothing but more weeds. Nothing holy, nothing white peeking through the green, nothing different, nothing that speaks of higher and better things than this world’s sin-cursed ground.

Scour the weeds. Never tire of reflecting the old things that speak of better than what the world holds up. Better than mere weeds and grass.

Scour your souls anew.

Photo credit goes to Edward Howell on Unsplash
Photo credit goes to Edward Howell on Unsplash