“Thou art indeed just, Lord,”

Lately, I have been busy, but feel I am accomplishing little. It is the sort of busyness our Western culture strangely seems to value. I could enumerate several tasks I have completed throughout the day, yet the weightier ones, the ones which possess the most significance seem to remain neglected, undone. I have a list of deadlines looming, but even more our family seems unsettled and my own soul is not fully at peace. I am experiencing the disappointment of constant striving but without focus or satisfaction.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) experienced this, as well. The English poet was increasingly frustrated with his lack of productivity. The depth in his poetry seemed to elude him and though he wrote and wrote, the results disappointed him. He struggled with discouragement, even depression, most of his adult life.

Like the psalmist David, Hopkins begins his poem “Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord” with a lament and complaint.

Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and

why must

Disappointment all I endeavour

end?

This is a cry of theodicy, a questioning of God’s goodness and care in a difficult world that seems far from ideal. He then ends it with a plea for help and a praise-filled recognition of the Lord as the true source of refreshment.

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I

contend

With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is

just.

Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and

why must

Disappointment all I endeavour

end?

Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,

How wouldst thou worse, I wonder,

than thou dost

Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and

thralls of lust

Do in spare hours more thrive than I

that spend,

Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks

and brakes

Now, leaved how thick! laced they

are again

With fretty chervil, look, and fresh

wind shakes

Them; birds build – but not I build;

no, but strain,

Time’s eunuch, and not breed one

work that wakes.

Mine, O thou lord of life, send my

roots rain.

It is somewhat comparable to David’s content in Psalm 13 where the psalmist also confronts his creator on his fairness and justice.

How long, O LORD? Will

you forget me

forever?

How long will you hide

your face from me?

How long must I take

counsel in my soul

and have sorrow in my

heart all the day?…..

Consider and answer

me, O LORD my God…..

But I have trusted in

your steadfast love;

my heart shall rejoice in

your salvation.

I will sing to the LORD,

because he has dealt

bountifully with me.

Psalm 13, A Psalm of David

For weeks I have felt weighted down by my ineptitude as a mom, teacher, peace maker and spirit-filled being. Even if I grow heavy with the feeling of unfruitfulness, I can count on his grace and his refreshing rain like the psalmists rely on, to supply “my roots rain,” for “he has dealt bountifully with me.”

On a Sunday

Sitting in the worship service, looking around at others, I may only see ordinary people, but if I look closer, with eyes of gratitude, I may catch a glimpse of a higher truth. I am part of something truer than what my tired eyes are taking in. God has transformed his people into impressive examples of love and grace. I am not naive; I still acknowledge the pain and brokenness among us. We are far from exemplary on our own merits. There a few struggling with addictions among us. Some have been abused; some have abused others. Many endure profound grief. We stand and sing, however, grateful together.


Sometimes I may not sing. Most of the times I am not able to carry a tune, much less contribute to the four-part harmony our tribe practices. Sometimes I dislike the song. Yes, sometimes I am distracted by the unnecessary apostrophe floating on the screen, or the wrong homonym renders the lyrics confusing.

That’s ok, because I see she has made it to church today. She is up and down chasing crayons from under the pew, escorting wriggling legs down the aisle, and back up again, solo, but smiling. I wonder if she hears the sermon…if it is discouraging that she expends this much energy when she could have stayed home, slept in.

He gets up to say a prayer. He seems so austere at times, almost cheerless. We rarely see eye to eye on extemporaneous doctrinal issues. I have found him annoyingly conservative. But there he stands, wording a prayer of contrition so beautifully I am ashamed to remember a time his gentle words comforted me in a difficult moment last year.

We sing.

We pray.

We hear the words of God together.

It all adds up to greater substance than it would initially appear. Some of us are lonely. Some of us depressed. Some of us are struggling with sins we have dragged about as on “ponderous chains” for years. Some of us are just thankful, hopeful, eagerly leaning in to God’s promises. We live and sing and pray as if they are already true. And they are.

God transforms the ugly into something weak and fragile, distinctly vulnerable, but beautiful.

She bothers me sometimes with her abrupt manner of speaking, as if she has no time for being polite, for choosing grace over expediency. I don’t know it, but I annoy him with my stubbornness, forever asserting myself when I could have just let it go. All of these are examples of what the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins meant by “dappled things.” Somewhere among the archaic language, the newly-hyphenated words, and melodic alliterations, we understand his message. We are a mess. We are freckled and plain, mundane, tedious, distorted and ineffective. We are hopelessly hopefully ordinary.

Pied Beauty

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things –

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow and plough;

And all trades their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who, knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers -forth whose beauty is past change.

Praise him.

We are, indeed, “all things counter, original, spare, strange.”

And not unlike Elisha and his servants seeing the LORD’s angel armies for the first time encircling Israel upon battle, we gather on a Sunday in pews nominally comfortable, with people who only appear ordinary, with “landscape plotted and pieced,” and we catch a glory-glimpse. And we praise him.

We gather each Sunday, for “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (2 Kings 6:16).

Praise him.

Dappled Beauty

Recently, I mentioned a book club which I was so graciously invited into a couple of years back.  Many of the women have a long-standing history with one another, and yet graft newcomers in seamlessly.  If you read my last blog post I describe our latest read – Tolkien’s delightful Letters from Father Christmas in which he fantasizes to his children on the happenings at the North Pole each year.  Each December the book club members bring a wrapped book to exchange.  It is always interesting to see what is contributed to the pile and what each person ends up with – from fiction to memoirs, cookbooks to devotionals.  This  year I came home with Booked by Karen Swallow Prior in which she confesses early on that she “thought [her] love of books was taking [her] away from God, but as it turns out, books were the backwoods path back to God, bramble-filled and broken, yes, but full of truth and wonder.”

My own love of books dates back to the farthest reaches of my memory when, as a toddler, I would pile the books from shelves around me in bed as I drifted off to sleep.  Instead of a favorite stuffed bear, I slept with all the characters and words collected from my day.  As I make my way through Prior’s tribute to the written word, I feel an immediate affinity with her as I have struggled to express what various works have meant to me over the years.

Here she quotes Gerard Manley Hopkins in her effort to explain the place language and text and story, especially poetry, held in her life as she used it to guard against feelings of awkwardness.  The written word is not merely an escape, but a means of explaining that incomprehensible truth from Scripture, “my power is made complete in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  Beauty may be hiding in those places the world may see as ugly.  Don’t forget the travel-weary, Jewish carpenter huddled with a young girl and a shriveled newborn in a back stable.  Today, do you feel your soul to be stained seemingly beyond worth?  Or rather, is your soul crying to escape the prison of an ugly, unwanted body?  With regret and confusion I recall the hours spent in tears and frustration because I was not as I should be….that my child felt the pain and confusion of not being “right” in this world.  Oh, dappled beauty!  May we always see things as they truly are and praise Him.  Whatever is fulfilling its purpose, or better still His purpose, is imbued with beauty beyond description, even if it be beyond our vision.  Here is how Gerard Manley Hopkins describes it:

Glory be to God for dappled things-

For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;

And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour;  adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.