Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

01 November 2012

Places Where Christ Plays

AS kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:        5
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.
Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;        10
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father in the features of men's faces.

I link the patient reader to Dominican Fr. Aidan Nichols' masterful work Hopkins: Theologian's Poet (Naples, FL: Sapientia Press, 2006), as well as to the analysis and reflection questions of a university student.

This could be called Hopkins' "All Saints' Poem."  As a devotee of Blessed John Duns Scotus, Hopkins very much appreciated the haecceitas, or "this-ness," of a thing, the form that individuates it and makes it recognizable.  As a poet, Hopkins grasped and attempted to express the uniqueness of his literary subjects; as theologian, he holds those subjects to the light of truth: Christ who illuminates every creature (Jn 1:9).  Thus the particular is grounded in the universal, the universal found in the particular.

In the octet, Hopkins mentions the natural activity of a bird and an insect, the sound made by a cast stone, a plucked harp, and a sounding bell.  He says that every living thing declares its existence when it acts according to its nature.  The reader and the listener can detect a certain resonance to the rhymes within the lines ("indoors").

As a transition from lesser life forms to the hylomorphic summit, Hopkins begins the sestet with an emphatic "I say more," and then tells of how a man's just and grace-filled activity announces his justice.  Here grace is more than a "state."  Justification is rather the dynamic relationship with God that enables a person to perform just actions and, as a result, to be just.

God sees in the just person the very image of His Son.  In each just person Christ's "limbs" perform just and graceful actions; His "eyes" perceive the needs that give rise to those actions.  In the above-cited book Nichols quotes one of the poet's sermons for an illustration of how grace works:
When a man is in God's grace and free from mortal sin, then everything that he does, so long as there is no sin in it, gives God glory. ... To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory, but a man with a dungfork in his hand, a woman with a sloppail, give Him glory too. (quoted in Nichols, 108).
Every human effort, however trivial and inconspicuous--and somehow accounting for vicious choosing--, takes place in a scene of the divine drama.  God's wise and loving plan plays out in life's characters, dialogue, gestures, and scenery.  Every virtuous act is also liturgical insofar as it derives from the incarnate Son's offering of Himself to the Father.  Christ offers the sacrifice personally, no doubt, but also (by His free choice) in and through many "mediators"--the saints.

In his day, St. Francis de Sales could advise, "Be who you are and be that well."  While minerals and plants and animals have no choice but to glorify God, we have a choice.  We have countless choices.  Nobody can or will make our choices for us.  Even God's prior choice of us goes only as far as we abide in it.  This is meant to ennoble and encourage us in our choosing, to grease the sliding board which we must ascend if we are then to descend into the ocean of divine love.  As the saints have gone before us, they are uniquely able to say, "Come in; the water's fine!"

1 comment:

  1. "For Christ plays in ten thousand places" .. Another one of my favorite quotes... I feel like we could go back and forth for days with never ending high caliber quotation reflections