“Charged with Grandeur”: A Reflection on Hopkins’ Classic Poem

I like to start my days with a bit of beauty, so every morning, I spend a moment reading and memorizing some poetry. Right now, I am working on Gerard Manley Hopkins’ classic Grandeur of God.

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.

The poem is divided into two stanzas. Stanza 1 has a rhyme pattern of ABBA ABBA, and Stanza 2 has a rhyme pattern of ABABAB.

Stanza 1 presents us with a conflict and Stanza 2 with a resolution.

In Stanza 1, lines 1 – 3, Hopkins begins his poem referring to radiance of God’s creation: God’s grandeur that “flames out” and “gathers to a greatness.” But in line 4, beginning with the word “Crushed,” he introduces the conflict: “Why do men then now not reck his rod?”

The three sets of alliteration, one of after the other, (men-then, now-not, reck-rod), give a sense of acceleration that emphasizes the discordance that is being introduced. Despite the grandeur of God, men do not “reck” (archaic word for “heed”) His governing rod. Instead, they carelessly exploit creation, and they trod and trod and trod in their pursuit of gain, mindless of the beauty of the world around them.

As a result, the world has been “seared with trade” and “smeared with toil.” Nature has been polluted with “man’s smudge” and “man’s smell”. There has been a fundamental divorce between man and nature, and the tables have been turned: man, who once walked barefoot upon the earth, has bared the earth and no longer feels it – he has separated and insulated himself from it with his industry.

After introducing the conflict,  Hopkins offers hope in the second stanza – hope that is found in nature itself because it is “never spent”, despite man’s heedlessness. He refers to the “dearest freshness deep down things”, the unique beauty that can be found in every single thing created by God. (This unique beauty of every individual reality is a recurring theme of Hopkins’ poetry.)

Even when things seem to be irreparably marred, even after “the last lights off the black West went,”  there is always hope; morning is always on the other side of the blackness of night. There is always this hope because God the Holy Spirit remains present in His creation.

To describe the Holy Spirit (whom he refers to with the old title of “Holy Ghost”), Hopkins evokes a bird-like image, perhaps of the dove so often used as a symbol of the Paraclete. Just as a mother bird covers her young with her wings (i.e. “broods”), so tenderly does the Holy Spirit care for His creation.

Hopkins ends his poem as he started with a reference to God’s luminous beauty. At the beginning of the poem he referred to God’s beauty as it is manifested in His creation. However, at the end of the poem, he makes a symbolic reference to the beauty of God Himself with his ecstatic recognition of the “bright wings” of the Holy Spirit.

In one way are another, we all have to wake up to face a world that is “seared with trade” and “smeared with toil,” but Hopkins offers us a beautiful insight and a wonderful reminder that not all is lost. No matter how dull or drudging our daily life may seem, and no matter how weary and gray our daily environment may be, there is always “the dearest freshness deep down” in everything around us. God’s beauty still charges the world.

All we have to do is take a moment to linger in God’s grandeur for the never-depleted freshness of His creation to fill and charge our own lives.


Five Keys to Peaceful Discernment

Life is complicated, and the course we should follow is rarely presented to us clearly.

It can be difficult to discern just how much we need to stand aside and let God act, and how much we ourselves should be making things happen. We have to balance between two extremes: on one hand, doing absolutely nothing and expecting God to put everything in our lap,  and, on the other hand, running ourselves ragged trying to do everything ourselves.

When discerning major changes in our lives, we need to have complete trust in God. Sometimes, trust in God will require action, other times it will require peacefully waiting on Him. In this post, I would like to propose five criteria for discerning whether to take a proposed course of action or not. (These criteria are based on the Five Steps to Peace series that I wrote in the spring.)

  1. Make sure the action is motivated by trust in God’s Providence:

The first and most important thing to check is to make sure that your desired  action is not motivated by excessive trust in yourself. Ask yourself the following questions:

Will I be sincerely seeking God’s Will with this course of action? Or am I simply trying to force things to happen? Is this action motivated by trust in God, or by trust in myself?

Often, when we lack trust in God and try to force things to happen, we end up making a bigger mess. An example of this in Scripture is when Abraham was asked by God to trust that he and Sarah would have a child, despite their advanced age. However, they both lacked trust and, instead of waiting on God, they tried to force things to happen by Abraham having a child with Sarah’s concubine. They ended up going outside of God’s Will and causing more problems for themselves and for others.

2. Make sure that your proposed course of action has Heaven as its final goal.

The world that we live in constantly bombards us with the message that all that we have to live for is here on Earth. The movies we watch and the music we listen to tell us that we should be focusing on building up our worldly treasures because that is all there is.

For this reason, we need to constantly be purifying our intention and asking ourselves:

Is the proposed action motivated by my desire for Heaven? Or is it an attempt to make my life on Earth unrealistically perfect? Will this action help bring me and others closer to Heaven?

3. Make sure that this action will help you make the best of your circumstances.

Many things in life are simply beyond our control. The trick to finding peace is accepting the things that we can’t change. One of the circumstance that we cannot change is our God-given vocation in life, so it is important to make sure that new courses of action allowed into our lives correspond to our respective vocations.

For example, a mother of young children may have a desire to be an famous actress. In discerning whether or not to pursue that dream, she will have to make sure that the actions she takes are compatible with her vocation as a mother. If it is probable that it will take her away from her children for unreasonable amounts of time, it may not be something that God is calling her to do. He never calls us to live mutually incompatible double  lives.

So the questions we need to ask ourselves are the following:

Will this action help me live my God-given vocation in life? Or am I trying to create with this action a lifestyle that is unrealistic given the circumstances and vocation in which God has put me?

4. Make sure that the action will help you live each moment to the full.

We live in a world that presents us with infinite possibilities. Thanks technology, it seems like everything is literally at our fingertips. Want to learn a language? Get this app. Want to write a book? Get that app. Want build your body to have model-perfect proportions? Get that other app.

 Although technology certainly facilitates self-improvement and the accomplishment of personal goals, we can be fooled into thinking that we can do it all. We end up dissipating our time and energy trying to achieve more than we actually can. Although we should never settle for mediocrity, at the same time, we have to be careful not to overextend ourselves. We have to make sure that we are living our lives to the full, rather than wasting them trying to live up to unrealistic self-imposed expectations.

So, before taking on any significant new commitment in our lives, we should ask:

Will this action add value to my life? Will it help me be present in each moment and live it fully? Or will it needlessly dissipate my energy and distract my attention from what is really important?

5. Make sure that you are not grasping and clinging to the results of the action.

All too often, we cling and grasp to the way we expect things to turn out. We forget that God is in control. Before following any new course of action in our lives, we have to make sure that we are detached from the outcome and ready to change our plans. This gives God the freedom He needs to direct our lives according to His Will. So we should ask ourselves:

Am I excessively attached to this plan of action? Am I ready to peacefully let go if God wills it?

When it comes to making major changes to our lives, we should take our time to discern them well and never rush into them. According to the magnitude of the decision, the questions listed should be calmly pondered over the course of days, weeks, or even months. We should seek advice from close friends and from prudent and holy people. Above all, we should peacefully open ourselves to the Holy Spirit and trust that He will show us the way in which to go.

It’s not a matter of if He will show you the way to go, but when.

Waking up to Life

Dear friends,

Today is All Souls Day, when we pray for our departed and peacefully remember the eternity that awaits us. In this context, I would like to share with you this powerful experience that I had a few years ago on my first hospital visit with a priest.

God bless!


We were in the Dutchess County Hospital, passing rooms with silent, withered occupants.  We came to Room 349 and entered quietly. He was lying in bed, dressed in a hospital gown.  His arms were painfully thin and his eyes sunk deeply into his skull.  He was all alone.  No daughter, no son, no wife, no brother, no sister, no nephew, no cousin, no distant relative, no friend, no power of attorney: he was dying alone.

After introductions and gentle shaking of his weak hand, he looked up from his bed and rasped, “It’s all over!”  The words struck deep, “It’s all over.”  What can you say to a man on death’s door?

The priest knew exactly what to say.  With a smile that lit up the room, he responded “No! Everything is just about to begin!”

The dying man’s grave, pained expression lightened a little, “Well, I guess you’re right.”

Glancing around his room, I noticed a muted TV set, connected to the wall on a metal arm.  The first game of the World Series would take place that night.  One of the coaches was speaking in the pre-game press conference.

The priest tried to converse with him.  Each attempt was met with a brief reply and a distant gaze.  I thought about talking with the man about the World Series.  Opening my mouth to ask whom he thought would have the better chance at the pennant, I stopped myself.  What would he care?  This man is about to die.  He is about to leave the world. He doesn’t give a darn about its World Series.

In this room where death was so close, the World Series was nothing more than background noise and images on a screen.  Beyond this room, people were glued to the TV, treating the result of the World Series as a matter of life or death. Inside Room 349, death approached and everything else was fading away.

As the priest prayed over the man and gave him communion, I began to experience an emotion that I did not expect on a visit to a dying man. I was actually happy for him. He had received the Anointing of the Sick. He was clean; he was about to see God. I was excited for him.  This man was on the verge of making it. He was almost out of the valley of tears. Just on the other side of death his eternal reward awaited.  In a few hours, he would be free of his suffering and within the embrace of the Father.

True, this man was close to death, but he was also close to Heaven.

It became apparent that the man was heavily sedated with painkillers, so our conversation did not last long. But the experience of the dying man impacted me deeply.  God spoke to me through him.  I left with a yearning for what the man was about to get. I realized just how close heaven is, and I realized how much I wanted it. It awakened in me the desire to renew my effort and to keep striving for heaven. God used the visit to the dying man to remind me that heaven is closer than I think.

Speaking with and watching him slowly let go of life, I experienced death vicariously. I saw what will one day happen to me. I saw things from the perspective of a dying man. For us, daily life seems so immediate, so real; things like the World Series seem like events of tremendous importance. But in Room 349, death was approaching; life was becoming more like a dream, something fragile, something less than reality that disappears as soon as the sun rises.

God brought me close to death to refocus me on what really matters. Compared to the reality and eternity of heaven, life is just a fleeting dream. Death is not a sunset, but a dawn. When we die, we wake up to the beautiful reality for which we were made.