Those of us of a certain age will remember that TV and radio stations weren’t always 24/7 enterprises. Typically, a station would begin and end its broadcast day with the National Anthem, and many of them would offer a sermonette in close proximity. A member of the clergy — I don’t recall ever seeing a non-Christian minister, but they may have appeared in non-Bible Belt cities — would talk for a few minutes about a passage of scripture and offer a brief prayer.
Frequent readers may recall that I tend to contribute to the College’s devotional series during Advent and Lent. Given the current weirdness, the campus pastor asked some of us to contribute our own versions of a sermonette. While the past devotionals were recorded and played on a local radio station, these pieces are being recorded on video and posted online.
I was asked to do my bit for this week, I recorded it on Friday, and you can watch it here if you like. If you prefer simply to read it yourself (which spares you from having to look at me)? Well, here you go.
Even for those of us in the literature business, some poems – and some poets – are easier to understand than others. For example, when I was in my late teens, I discovered a 19th-Century English poet and Catholic priest named Gerard Manley Hopkins. I didn’t like his work; I couldn’t make sense of it. But enough people I trusted told me there was something happening there, so I went back to it from time to time, and now I think I have more of a handle on why he was so great. In fact, I think his work is so amazing that I want to share it. This is a poem he wrote called “God’s Grandeur.”
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
What Hopkins was telling us was pretty straightforward, really: God’s glory is everywhere we might look, but we don’t look often enough or hard enough. We get so caught up in the work we do, in the repetition of our days – we “have trod, have trod, have trod.” We forget to notice how wonderful and beautiful the world can be, and what a gift it is to live in this world. It’s easy to get distracted, or even to be ungrateful.
But in the last six lines of the poem (the part that starts with “And for all this”), Hopkins shows us the amazing thing: God keeps giving us that beauty, whether we appreciate it or not, even whether we notice it or not. Even more, God keeps giving us our world – the image Hopkins offers of the bird warming its nest “with warm breast and ah! Bright wings.” So what I’d like to suggest this week is that we pay attention – to Hopkins, to the world’s beauty, to the people around us – each of whom is an image of God, and each of whom is beautiful. Sometimes, when life is busy and days are fearful, those beauties may be as hard to see and understand as Hopkins was when I was a teenager. But if we keep looking, and if we trust, then eventually we may be able to see the glory that was there all along, and God willing, you’ll want to share it.