Friday, May 04, 2007

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod

God's Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
&#160&#160&#160 It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
&#160&#160&#160 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;
&#160&#160&#160 And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
&#160&#160&#160 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;
&#160&#160&#160 There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
&#160&#160&#160 Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
&#160&#160&#160 World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
- Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1877, published 1895
This poem captures a number of important theological insights. The first four lines are filled with wonder at God's creation, and the grandeur of God revealed there. Yet already by line four is a puzzled recognition that not all see it.

The next four lines are very pessimistic about humanity's effects on nature. With good reason, yet not as good as the reasons for such feelings today. There is more to be said about this relationship (and Hopkins has much more to say in other poems), but I think this captures an important moment in reflection. The marks humanity leaves on the world are often more shameful than glorious.

After the turn at the end of line 8, the sonnet shifts focus to the future. Despite the worst humanity can do, our powers of ultimate destruction are curtailed. Even if we bring blackest night, that could not dim the regenerative power of God's hovering Holy Spirit. This final confession has been criticised as letting us off the hook, since God can and will fix whatever problems we create. What do you think: does the promise of universal restoration (Acts 3.21) undermine our motivation to care for creation?
Ten points for naming the country in the pic.


Philip Britton said...

We often are utilitarian in our ethics (ie. what we do doesn't matter because the outcome is good because of the spirit's intervention), but love demands another ethic. If God's active restoration of people arises out of love, then what is created is a people who will love (1 John).
Hopkins isn't giving a 'way out' he is giving us an insight into what God delights in, which is the very thing that because of God's restorative action in us (which is central to his restorative activity in creation - Rom 8) we should also delight in.

Jonathan said...

I tend to feel (rightly or wrongly) that it does undermine some of the arguments used to motivate our care of creation, even some I have read in this in this blog. It also undermines the excuse that we are incapable of solving all the problems that we can see, and the hopelessness we may feel in response the current situation. But shall we neglect the creation because it is not under us, but waiting to see the full extent of God's grace? Certainly not! Isn't Hopkins speaking of the work of the Spirit even now, not just the final restoration?

Bruce Yabsley said...

does the promise of universal restoration (Acts 3.21) undermine our motivation to care for creation?

Motivation etc. seems to me quite the wrong way to approach this issue, and likely to invite bad answers.

This is a matter of stewardship: care for a thing beyond us and apart from us and belonging to another, given to us on trust to tend. It is no contradiction to this to assert that creation is ultimately God's and that he will fulfil it, since this is assumed from the beginning within this view.


Regarding Hopkins: it's striking how often one hears the opening four lines quoted, or the ending, rather than the whole sonnet ... even or especially in Christian settings. Yet the sense is in the whole poem, as you say.

Anonymous said...

Is anyone else reminded by that line of the theme-tune to Mr Ed?

Matthew Moffitt said...


byron smith said...

Ten points. Well done.