I would like to employ a poet’s help this morning with this homily for our celebration of the solemnity of Pentecost. I think it’s okay to ask a poet to help us because the scriptures themselves speak to us of the wonderful Spirit of God in poetic images that stretch human language to its uttermost. Wind and fire, dry bones and desert. Even the Word of God – God’s Word in human words – must at times call on poetry to open the eyes of our hearts to God’s truth. You will find a copy of the poem in your pew. Please follow along with me. The title of the poem is “God’s Grandeur” and it was written by Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1918.
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.
Father Hopkins, a Jesuit priest, wrote this poem at a time in history when intellectuals were saying that God, if he had ever existed, had withdrawn from the world, had pulled back, and left humanity in darkness. Remember that in 1918 the human race was engaged in a world war, a war that was supposed to end all wars, but in reality threatened to end civilization itself.
Against this backdrop of madness and murder Hopkins asked people to see a presence – “dearest freshness deep down (in) things.” This presence, though gentle and non-aggressive, is resilient and relentless; it is much like the power we experience in Nature, in spring, when creation is shaken from its winter sleep. We catch a glimpse of this presence in the force of evolution which will not take “no” for an answer, but continually calls life to more complex and varied forms. This presence, like a mother eagle, hovers over creation with bright wings, encouraging her young to leave the safety of their nest.
Hopkins asks, “Why do men not reck his rod?” (Why do we not recognize this gentle rule?) This gentle rod, for Father Hopkins, is the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Pentecost; the Spirit which gave birth to the Church. It is the Spirit which makes our children sons and daughters of God in Baptism; the Spirit which changes bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ; the Spirit which makes a man and woman one flesh in Holy Matrimony. The Spirit which brings us here today.
As you know, I returned over a week ago from a pilgrimage in Spain: I walked with my friend, Joe Kraft, seventy miles of the ancient Camino de Santiago de Campostela which ends at the cathedral believed to hold the remains of Saint James the Apostle. The entire camino is over five hundred miles long and it draws people from all over the world, not just Catholics. What I experienced on this walk was the presence of the Spirit gently and powerfully pulling people, despite blisters and heavy backpacks towards a common destination. People who could not speak each other’s language and yet learned to smile and say to one another, “Buen Camino” – May the road be good to you.
This Pentecost I invite you, wherever you are on your walk with God, to pray with me that we will remember in times of spiritual dryness, in times of deep frustration, in times of ill-health, in times of financial want – pray with me that we will always experience “dearest freshness deep down (in) things” and that we will know the Holy Spirit hovering over our lives with bright wings, calling us forward. May the road be good to you.