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grandeur of godThe 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.

What on earth can a sonnet written by a Jesuit priest in Victorian England have to teach the modern world? The answer, sad to tell, is that it can teach it nothing. It is not that the sonnet has nothing to teach but that the modern world believes it has nothing to learn.

The point of quoting this sonnet, “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins, is that it has nothing to do with the modern world and everything to do with God’s world and our place within it. The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It is full of goodness, truth, and beauty. Furthermore it is full of rational beings who are able to recognize and experience its grandeur and to see that it is good, as God Himself saw that it was good when he first created it. For, as Chesterton said, we do not live in the best of all possible worlds but the best of all impossible worlds. We are living in the midst of a miracle. We are interwoven into the lines of the greatest poem ever written. We are part of the most beautiful landscape ever painted. We are part of the Great Music, the symphony of Creation, which the Great Composer has sung into being.

The world is indeed charged with the grandeur of God! It flames out like shining from shook foil! It gathers to a greatness!

And each of us is charged with the grandeur of God, full of His life and made in His image, so that we can see the beauteous goodness of the work of Art of which we are a part.

And yet we so often choose not to look. We choose not to see. We prefer the darkness.

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.

Every generation treads on truth in its heedless busyness, trading beauty for booty, and goodness for so-called “goods,” which are consumed with insatiable and therefore unsatisfied desire. It is thus that we mark and mar the grandeur of God’s world with our own smear and smudge. It is thus that the soil becomes as bare and barren as the souls who no longer till it. Nor are we aware of the desert that we have made because our feet, being shod with the accretion of creature comforts that we have accumulated to shield our souls from pain, no longer feel the bedrock reality on which they trudge, comfortably numb and heading towards the abyss.

In the midst of the mess that we have made, we no longer see God’s grandeur because of the dust-storm of distraction that we have raised in the desert of our just deserts. Thus blinded we do not see a world charged with the grandeur of God but a gutter that shares our smell and shows us nothing but the ugliness of our selfishness.

Since the gutter that we have made for ourselves is such an unpleasant place, we seek to escape from it through the self-oriented pursuit of comfort, power, or liberty. The problem is that the pursuit of these self-oriented things is what creates the gutter in the first place. There is, therefore, no escape from the gutter of selfishness in such egocentric escapism. The escape can only be made by turning away from the gutter itself and rediscovering the grandeur of God. We are all in the gutter, as Oscar Wilde quipped, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Wise men look to the stars, seeing them as lights that pierce the darkness with royal beauty bright. Stars of comfort, stars of light! Stars that shine forth the grandeur of God in an epiphany of praise!

One such wise man was Samuel Taylor Coleridge who, in the beauty of the Alps, looked up from the gutter of life to behold Mont Blanc, the White Mountain, ablaze at the first light of dawn with the light of our nearest star:

Who made you glorious as the Gates of Heaven
Beneath the keen full moon? Who bade the sun
Clothe you with rainbows? Who, with living flowers
Of loveliest blue, spread garlands at your feet?—
God! let the torrents, like a shout of nations,
Answer! and let the ice-plains echo, God!
God! sing ye meadow-streams with gladsome voice!
Ye pine-groves, with your soft and soul-like sounds!
And they too have a voice, yon piles of snow,
And in their perilous fall shall thunder, God!

The eyes with which the poet beholds the glory of God in the splendor of His Creation are those of humility. It is humility that opens our eyes to wonder as surely as it is pride that blinds us to it. Humility sees the stars and rejoices at the light that they shed. Pride sees only the gutter.

The glorious fruit of humility is the sense of gratitude which opens the heart and mind to all that is good, and true, and beautiful.

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.

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