Saturday, July 3, 2021 (Day 33)

Katie Snipes Lancaster

Psalm 33 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
Sing gladly, O righteous, of the Lord,
for the upright, praise is befitting.
Acclaim the Lord with the lyre,
with the ten-stringed lute hymn to God.
Sing God a new song, play deftly with joyous shout.
For the word of the Lord is upright,
and all God’s doings in good faith.
God loves the right and the just.
The Lord’s kindness fills the earth.

An Opening Word
Psalm 33 is thought to be a collective song sung by a host of choral singers. It is liturgical with a global scope. It proclaims “sing God a new song,” as if to chide those who only sing the old go-to hymns that get stale as years go on. Not only that, the Psalmist demands excellence (Lisa Bond would like this part), saying “play deftly,” for we are singing to the glory of God. Don’t be ho-hum, practice your music, come prepared, be ready, and bring your best to God.

It is as if today’s mystic takes the uplift of this Psalm and then echoes it across all the world. This first phrase from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “God’s Grandeur” (below) has long been a tender truth of faith and knowing Hopkins’ history deepens the journey toward this poem evermore.

He was born in Essex, England in 1844 and though he died in 1889, his poetry was not published, or widely circulated until after World War I. He spent the first part of his life as a Marine Insurance salesman, his father’s business meaning, that he was well acquainted with the tragedies made possible by trans-Atlantic voyages, or even small seafaring trips. Though he destroyed all of his early poetry in the late 1860s when he decided to abandon his Protestant upbringing and join the Catholic church as a Jesuit priest, he was later asked by his superior to write a poem about a famous shipwreck, “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” in which 5 nuns and many others perished off the coast of England. On his Protestant-Catholic conversion his mother said, “O Gerard, my darling boy, are you indeed gone from me?”, and while his father did not ban him from the home, it created enough tension that he only came home for infrequent Christmas dinners. In a letter to a Catholic friend Gerard Manley Hopkins said that his family’s letters back in response to his new faith tradition were “terrible: I cannot read them twice.” Yet he felt called nonetheless, to convert.

His poem “God’s Grandeur,” fits theologically with his mystical encounter with the divine. It is that shimmering, shining, effervescent, and sacramental presence of God in the field, in the soil, in the depth of forest or at the edge of the water that caused him to convert from Protestant to Catholic faith. He felt especially connected to the theology of the eucharist, the transubstantiation or “mystical presence” of Christ in the physical elements of bread and cup. He extended that metaphor to include the grapes and wheat, even there on the vine and in the field, part and parcel of the body of God. “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things,” as this poem declares.

Prayer from the Mystics: Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889)
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.