|Not out of his bliss|
|Springs the stress felt|
|Nor first from heaven (and few know this)|
|Swings the stroke dealt—|
|Stroke and a stress that stars and storms deliver,||45|
|That guilt is hushed by, hearts are flushed by and melt—|
|But it rides time like riding a river|
|(And here the faithful waver, the faithless fable and miss).|
It dates from day
|Of his going in Galilee;||50|
|Warm-laid grave of a womb-life grey;|
|Manger, maiden’s knee;|
|The dense and the driven Passion, and frightful sweat;|
|Thence the discharge of it, there its swelling to be,|
|Though felt before, though in high flood yet—||55|
|What none would have known of it, only the heart, being hard at bay,|
|We lash with the best or worst|
|Word last! How a lush-kept plush-capped sloe|
|Will, mouthed to flesh-burst,||60|
|Gush!—flush the man, the being with it, sour or sweet,|
|Brim, in a flash, full!—Hither then, last or first,|
|To hero of Calvary, Christ, ’s feet—|
|Never ask if meaning it, wanting it, warned of it—men go.|
The history of heresy depicts the neglect, or denial, of one truth in favor of its apparent opposite. Salvation is all about divine grace, and nothing about human effort; Christ is human and not divine, or divine and...oh, yes, if we must say it, human.
One of our seminary professors epitomized the Catholic way thus: "Both/and, fellas; both/and."
In a culture and age that may have overemphasized the Lord's divinity, Hopkins reminds us of Jesus' earthly origins ("nor first from heaven...it rides time"). The beginning foretold the end: gestation in the Virgin's womb was a preview for Jesus' death. All earthly suffering finds its origin, meaning, and fulfillment in the entire mystery of the Word-made-Flesh, extending back from the Passion to the Nativity. This point is relevant for the development of the Gospels: in the preaching of the Apostles, the moment of primary concern was the Lord's Passion, Death, and Resurrection. What gives with this Jesus of Nazareth!? Having walked and talked among us, healing and teaching, He suffered a cruel fate at the hands of His foes; but He is risen, liberating all men and women from the sting of death! Probe further, and the evangelists will speak of encounters with an angel and a cousin, a star and wise men, and all the rest that makes for Advent and Christmas. In the Gospel, death precedes life.
"(And here the faithful waver, the faithless fable and miss)"--with the use of parentheses Hopkins is ready to let the reader in on a secret, namely that God's wondrous works, especially His movements within the soul, transpire in tumult. This, too, is courtesy of the Incarnation. Man's interior portrait becomes more vivid from that point onward (think Augustine's Confessions), although Old Testament times do not altogether lack such insight (think Jeremiah).
Here's an exercise in mindfulness: eat one strawberry or blueberry at a time, slowly, deliberately allowing its sweetness to "Gush!" Imagine God lovingly placing us in the vise and cranking out our repentance and conversion. It all comes out--"sour or sweet." Is that not so, when, in the presence of a clever parent, friend or lover, the whole truth escapes us, blurted like a profanity we just can't hold in anymore? In such tender moments our verbal discretion is cast to the winds; and this is usually both appropriate and overdue, as discretion ("the better part of valor") is known to perpetuate dishonesty and other forms of spiritual stagnation.
"To hero of Calvary, Christ, ’s feet—" This is not a misprint. I note how "Christ" is an appositive of "hero of Calvary," and both of them get the apostrophe-"s," which only for Hopkins would stand alone. Just saying.
"Never ask if meaning it, wanting it, warned of it--men go"--God respects human freedom, but one wonders whether God sometimes points a magnet in our direction. Said Our Lord, "When I am lifted from the earth, I will draw all men to myself" (Jn 12:32), reminiscent of the serpent that Moses raised in the wilderness for the healing of his recalcitrant countrymen. It further reminds of the famous inscription above the door of Carl Jung's house: Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit (Called or not, God will be present).
God is always present, but we often aren't. Once I heard a speaker in a spiritual venue tell of his dark drinking days. When infused with liquid personality, he somehow gained attention and (what he thought was) acceptance--and this without much awareness or effort. "I can go to the party; I just don't have to boot up any software." The thought of savoring a conversation, much less a strawberry, is much of a strain. That's the thing with us: if we wish, we can go through life mindlessly; but everyone is the poorer for our lack of investment.