As the introduction to a sermon yesterday I read from Gerard Manley Hopkin’s As Kingfishers Catch Fire.
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves – goes itself; myself it speak and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for thatI came.
Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is –
Chríst – for Christ play in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
The title of the sermon on the text that I read from was: The Just Man Justices. Hopkins invents a word here – my new favorite: Justices. An infinitive verb form meaning that the just man does justice. Makes one think of Micah: He hath shewed thee, O Man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God?
And I love the image that follows…the just man justices; keeps grace; that keeps all his goings graces. Keep the image of God’s grace in your heart – God’s unmerited love for you – so that all your coming and goings are graces, acting in God’s eye what you are… Christ.
Hopkins wrote Kinfishers in 1877 when he was 33 years old. Some think that the poem was influenced by St. Patrick’s Breastplate:
Christ be before me
Christ be behind me
Christ be beneath me
Christ be above;
Christ on my right hand
Christ on my left hand.
In an earlier version of the poem Hopkins rendered the last two lines differently:
Lives in limbs, and looks through eyes not his With lovely yearning
Reading these earlier lines we get a glimpse of the process of creating the poem – we see the underpainting beneath the final image.
There are twenty verbs in the 14 lines that comprise Kingfishers: catch; draw; ring; tells; finds; fling; does; deals out; being; goes; speaks; spells; crying; say; justices; keeps; keeps; acts; is; plays. The grace that keeps us is active.
In Luke’s Gospel, when asked when and where the Kingdom of God would be realized Jesus’ response echoes what Hopkins is imaging in Kingfishers:
“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:
Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”
Finding the Kingdom of God within us is living a just life that keeps grace, keeps all our goings graces. Humbling accepting God’s love for us in Christ, the incarnation. Accepting God’s grace enables us to “act in God’s eye what we are, Christ, for Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his to the Father through the feature of men’s faces.”
Happy Monday… keep grace; that makes all your goings graces.
And Happy Thanksgiving.