Reflections by Jerry Webber

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Incomprehensible Certainty

Gerard Manley Hopkins was a brilliant and artistic 19th century Jesuit priest who lived most of his life in adversity. His family turned their backs on him. His friends ridiculed him, sometimes publicly. He converted to Catholicism in an Anglican country. He was given appointments as a priest that did not match his gifts. He often found himself on the outside, even of religious life, looking in.

He was also a reluctant poet, expressing his inner life in verse that was not valued until well after his death.

Foremost, Hopkins loved God and was willing to face rejection and adversity for the love of God. His sense of being outside the mainstream did not deter him from a steadfast allegiance to God.

Ron Hansen in Exiles writes this about Hopkins and his devotion to God:

Hopkins was a child of a century in which many writers, artists, and intellectuals abandoned not only Christianity but belief in God altogether. Their antipathies were generating a cultural shift away from organized religion and toward a view of God as only an interesting uncertainty. Whereas Hopkins considered God, as he wrote a friend, "an incomprehensible certainty." His was a faith that found hope and sturdiness even in the face of mystery, paradox, and philosophical difficulties. Because he'd felt God's love and tenderness so often in the past, he knew there was no meanness in him. (Ron Hansen, Exiles, 101 - 102)

I love Hopkins. I love his poetry. I love his life, what Hansen calls his "sturdiness" in the face of life's difficulties. I love the way he holds the tension of the incomprehensibility of God on the one hand and the certainty of God on the other. He is not afraid to step whole-heartedly into God's mystery, into the cloud and darkness of God, while at the same time trusting wholeheartedly in whatever God brought into his life.

As a follower of Christ in the Ignatian tradition, he didn't prefer wealth or poverty, health or sickness, success or failure, esteem or ridicule. He received whatever came, trusting with a sturdy faith the God who was incomprehensible, but who had never shown him other than love.

I finished Hansen's book today. I find myself once again deeply connected to Hopkins, glad for his life, thankful that he is my brother.

1 comment:

cjc said...

Oh that I would be able to truly live into that place of receiving whatever comes, a sturdy faith and God who had never shown me other than love. In the fragile silence that I am able to manage in my morning prayer time, I become aware that this is the deepest desire of my heart.