Without question, the last week (or year perhaps) has been difficult for Americans; division, violence, and hardened hearts have all arisen—all, of course, things that we Christians strive to undo. Yet even as we might try to sow the seeds of peaceful accord, to raise voices of love in days of angry clamoring, we are still human beings. We are people torn by our allegiances to our communities, professions, and roles. We are people with access to social media, who turn on the news and cannot help but feel sadness sink in and percolate deep down.
It is always hard to be a Christian, but it is especially hard to maintain the joy of Christ in days filled with strife and anger, to preach the Gospel in an age of polarized politics, poor electoral choices, and false binaries. Yet, it is our duty to remain hopeful in spite of our circumstances—we are, after all, in the world, but not of it.
As a student of literature, I find reading Christian texts a healthy corrective to the problems of day-to-day life, and this situation is no exception. This time, as often, I thought to turn to Gerard Manley Hopkins—convert, Jesuit priest, and poet—whose work is notoriously lively, complex, and faithful. In particular, I felt drawn to his “Pied Beauty,” a poem I’ve read many times, but which never feels hackneyed or predictable:
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 áll trádes, 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:
Thematically, the poem is rather simple—an exploration of the many ways in which God’s creation gives Him glory. But looking more closely, we see Hopkins praising God for impure or confusing creatures (“dappled things”), for things traditionally lacking in beauty (a “brinded cow”), for what is small (“rose-moles”), and for life in all its phases (“fold, fallow, and plough”). The “pied beauty” of the poem is its praise for God in so many diverse places and things (“swift, slow, sweet, dour; adazzle, dim”) in such a small space. It cries out “praise him,” not in spite of the world’s ugliness or confusion, but in fact because of it, because the very existence of anything gives glory to God.
And perhaps that is precisely what we are called to do—to glorify Him in “[a]ll things counter, original, spare, strange,” that is, to pray, to love, and to offer ourselves, especially when things are most confusing. For me, Hopkins’ poem serves as a timely reminder of this truth; for others, it is not poetry that fills this role. Still and regardless, it is what we are called to do: to step back, to remember ourselves, to do what the final line so beautifully summarizes—to “praise him.”