Tag Archives: Gerard Manley Hopkins

The Holy Ghost and Gerard Manley Hopkins

…the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.
“God grandeur”

This year the feast of Pentecost falls on the anniversary of the death of the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins on June 8, 1889.

Holy Spirit window, St. Peter's, the Vatican

Holy Spirit window, St. Peter’s, the Vatican

“God’s grandeur” is one of my favorite poems, celebrating the presence of God in the world. It is also a poem with a very ecological flavor.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God

But Hopkins laments what we humans have done to the earth

And all is seared with trade: bleared, smeared with toil;
And wear’s man’s smudge and shares man’s smell…

We have even forgotten how to experience the earth:

    …the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

Yet Hopkins maintains hope

And for all this, nature is never spent;
     There lives the dearest freshness deep down things

How can this be?

      Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
            World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

The Spirit of God renews the face of the earth, renews us, and offers us hope. There is a freshness – the dearest freshness – deep down things – if we would open our hearts.

No wonder the last words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, after a life filled with melancholy, were

I am so happy!

The full text of the poem can be found here.

“Without event”

They also serve
who only stand and wait.
John Milton 

 For more than forty years, Brother Alfonso Rodríguez answered the door at the Jesuit college in Majorca.

But his simple faith, nourished by prayer and service to all who entered the door, brought the love of God to many. This man who had been refused entry to the Jesuits in his late thirties became a spiritual adviser to many – and inspired St. Peter Claver to go to the Americas.

The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote a beautiful sonnet In Honor of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez. In the last stanza he wrote:

 …while there went
Those years and years by of the world without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.

This morning the words “without event” struck me. Hermano Alfonso did no major deed that the annals of history might recount, but his simple service changed the lives of many.

In today’s first reading. St. Paul tells the Romans (8:39) that nothing “can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul, of course, lists death, the powers, and more as possible threats to that love.

But might the ordinariness of life also separate us from God’s love.

When we, unlike Alfonso, do not see and show the love of God in the ordinary people we meet, in the daily tasks of opening doors and treating people with welcoming kindness, are we letting ourselves be separated from the love of Christ?

But what kept Alfonso going?

Perhaps these words of his can give us a hint:

 This is my happiness, this my pleasure:
to live with Jesus, to walk with Jesus,
to converse with Jesus,
to suffer with and for him,
this is my treasure.


Seeing the world anew in a new year

Last week I went to Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, to the funeral and burial of my last living aunt, Mary Barrar. It was a time of sadness and celebration, as we remembered aunt Mary as a take-charge, faith-filled, loving woman.

During the last two years of her life, as she became frailer, she was moved into a retirement village

The night before I left to return to Honduras, her son George drove me around the grounds to share some of his memories of being with his mother there. It was snowy but you could see that the grounds were beautiful are well-cared for.

Aunt Mary had mild dementia and George told me how each time he took her out to the gardens at Dunwoody she would be in awe, since each visit was a new experience. She did not recall that she had seen them before.

Dementia can be awful and very troubling, both for those who suffer and for their loved ones.

But George’s reflection made me think about the gift of seeing things each day as if they were new.

A line from Gerard Manley Hopkin’s poem “God’s Grandeur” came to mind as I thought more on this.

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things

A new year has begun. Maybe the best resolution I can make it be to rise each day to a new day, seeing the world anew, standing in awe and gratitude to God for “the dearest freshness deep down things.”

Cheap joy

Though I love to smile, enjoy a good joke, and have an ironic sense of humor,  I am somewhat suspicious about what I might call “cheap joy.”

I occasionally run into people of faith who have a really bouncy approach to their faith and seem to be always on a high. They sometimes make me uncomfortable, especially when they expect me to have the same type of cheerfulness, especially when they expect everybody to clap and shout for joy in meetings.

I sense the need for a different joy.

Today is the anniversary of the death of the Jesuit priest and poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, in 1889.

His poetry speaks often of the glory of God in creation:

“The world is charged with the grandeur of God”

But, he seems to have been a soul that experienced deep desolation:

 I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.

I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste:

Yet, as Robert Ellsberg notes in  All Saints, his final words were “I am so happy.”

True to the Ignatian tradition, Hopkins experienced the joy, the consolation, that is deeper than surface happiness, the joy that can be lived in the midst of pain and consolation, the joy of the Cross and Resurrection.

And so today I pray for real joy – but a joy that allows me to be with the suffering – and live within my own suffering – perhaps showing that Joy that comes, not from me, but from a God who doesn’t look at us from afar but has come among us and suffered with us.

That’s not a cheap joy.