A World Charged with God’s Grandeur

Ernest Lawson, Spring Morning

Spiritual Sunday

Today’s Gospel reading is Jesus assuring his disciples that, after he leaves, God will provide “another Advocate, to be with you forever.” This advocate, he elaborates, is “the Spirit of truth.” “You know him,” he explains, “because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”

In “God’s Grandeur,” Gerard Manley Hopkins lays out how this advocate, the Holy Spirit, enters and fills us. It flames out “like shining from shook foil” and it “gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil crushed.” Hopkins says we experience the grandeur especially on beautiful spring days.

We can be filled with God’s grandeur even in the midst of our capitalist existence, where “all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil.” This is a challenge, however, because the poet points to generations trodding down the ground so that “the soil is bare now.” Furthermore, because we are shod with shoes, we cannot feel God’s earth.

Hopkins’s line about “the last lights off the black West” going out reminds me of a passage from Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” another poem where the speaker gazes from a dark shore:

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Hopkins, however, counters that this is not enough to stop the spirit. “And for all this,” he proclaims, “nature is never spent;/ There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” Morning will spring “because the Holy Ghost over the bent/ World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”

That “ah!” captures the rapture of the renewal, whether of dawn, of spring, or of God’s love. We are protected when we need protecting, as though by a mother bird. Then, when the right moment comes, we are released. At this moment, it’s as though we ourselves have bright wings.

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.
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