Hopkins Lectures 2013

THE POET AS PROPHET ‘He who is now called a prophet (nabi) in time past was called a seer (roeh)’ I Samuel 9:9

James P. Mackey, Theologian, University of Edinburgh (emeritus)


I am the angel of reality,
Seen for a moment standing at the door.
I have neither ashen wing nor wear of ore
And live without a tepid aureole,
Or stars that follow me, not to attend,
But, of my being and knowing, part.
I am one of you and being one of you
Is being and knowing what I am and know.
Yet I am the necessary angel of earth
Since in my sight you see the earth again,
Cleared of its stiff and stubborn, man-locked set,
And, in my hearing, you hear its tragic drone
Rise liquidly in liquid lingerings,
Like watery words awash; like meanings said
By repetitions of half-meanings. Am I not,
Myself, only half of a figure of a sort,
A figure half seen, or seen for a moment, a man
Of the mind, an apparition apparelled in
Apparels of such lightest look that a turn
Of my shoulder and quickly, too quickly, I am gone.’

That is a poem of Wallace Stevens, entitled ‘Angel Surrounded by Paysans,’ and he commented on this poem in one of his letters (No.831 of his Collected Letters, I had better say, since I am probably surrounded here by more pernickety scholars than paysans). Here is what he wrote: ‘In Angel Surrounded by Paysans the angel is the angel of reality. This is clear only if the hearer is of the idea that we live in the world of the imagination, in which reality and contact with it are the great blessings. For nine readers out of ten, the necessary angel will appear to be the angel of the imagination and for nine days out of ten that is true, although it is the tenth day that counts.’ What happens, then, on the tenth day? On the tenth day, if we read together the poem and the comment, two connected truths dawn on us together: first, that it is through the imagination, above all else, that we are blessed with the truest, most beautiful, best and most promising contact with reality; the most attractive, inspiring and empowering; in the words of the worthy Wordsworth, from his Prelude: ‘Imagination....Is but another name for absolute power/ And clearest insight, amplitude of mind,/ And Reason in her most exalted mood.’ Or, as Auden added in his pithy Their Lonely Betters: ‘We, too, make noises when we laugh or weep;/ Words are for those with promises to keep.’ And the second truth to dawn on us on reading Wallace’s poem and comment upon it, is this: I, as one of you, am the angel of reality, for being one of you is being and knowing what I am and know. As such indeed you and I are the necessary angels of the earth, since in our sight the earth is seen again; though only if we can clear it of the shackles of the circle of destruction and destructiveness in which we ourselves have locked this lean earth; locked it down to the point at which we can hear only its tragic drone, instead of the songs of promise, of truth, goodness, beauty and fulfilment (shalom) that we and it could then sing together, and in the harmony of its perfect symmetries.     So then, to the first truth: it is only as we live in the world of imagination that we may be blessed with our truest and most promising contact with reality; in Patrick Kavanagh’s verses from Kerr’s Ass: ‘Morning, the silent bog,/And the God of imagination waking/ In a Mucker fog.’ The reason why the imagination is the source of our truest, best and most beautiful contact with the reality of the cosmos in which we live and move and have our being, is because the imagination, reason in its most exalted mood, is a truly creative faculty of mind; just as creative in fact as the cosmos itself is ever in process, a continuously living, creative and evolving entity. Greek philosophy from its beginnings, but most particularly in its most accomplished form of the Platonic renaissance by Plotinus in the third century AD, has informed and shaped all Western philosophy, from its physics to its ethics, aesthetics and theology; as A. N. Whitehead put it, ‘all Western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato.’ And so it is no surprise to see Aristotle  -  a thoroughgoing Platonist -  say that the nous poietikos, the art- and craftsman-like mind is as necessary for physics (the early Greek philosophers were known as the physiologoi, physicists) as it is for ethics and metaphysics to which theology belongs; and none more than the theology that early Christians borrowed from the Neo-Platonists for purposes of proving the credibility of their own faith. Nor then is it any surprise to find Heraclitus, who was explicitly known as a prophet, present his love of wisdom, philo-sophia in Greek, in great sequences of visionary aphorisms. Parmenides, more prosaic in his style, still wrote his masterpiece in metric language, like the Orphics before him. And even old Aquinas in the Middle Ages, forever mincing his logic in micro mode, still tells us that a good imagination is better for a would-be prophet than good morals  -  a solace, surely, for all those poets who seem to think that advanced alcoholism is a necessary qualification for the success of the art of creative writing. The primacy of the world of the imagination as the optimal trysting place with created and creative reality is indeed secure in the cultural history of the West. Or at least it was until the modern era when science usurped the throne of philosophy and claimed sole ownership of the truth about reality. This was a two-pronged move in which Newtonian physics painted a picture of the cosmos as a mechanism; its basic units consisting of tiny particles of hard matter moving around on a pre-existent space-time grid, guided in a dance together and apart by the laws of physics that thereby compile more and more intricate creatures  -  mechanically, of course, not creatively. So that, if one knew the position and motion of all the particles, and knew the laws of physics, one could predict everything that would happen in the cosmos; and the illusion of a free will that could create things truly new, and thereby become responsible for these, is just that, an illusion. In Newtonian mechanics there is just repetition, and no real creativity. The second, and equally deleterious case argued in the name of science was to the effect that all is matter in the cosmos, and there is no mind within or in addition to the brain and neurological system. As Bertrand Russell put it in a famous essay of his called ‘A Free Man’s Worship,’ the creator of this cosmos must be named as Omnipotent (mindless) Matter rolling on its relentless way; and throwing up, and later just as unthinkingly destroying again, all those configurations of atoms that we are and meet. How the term, free, gets a foothold in this kind of discourse is rather puzzling; but it is more apposite here to respond simply by saying that the offerings of the creative arts are now reduced to decorating one’s living space, there to sweeten the time while waiting for easeful death. Until, that is to say, a strange spooky creature called quantum physics ghosted its way onto the scientific scene, and will not go away. The best way to think of this recent and strange development in physics, is to think along the lines of Heisenberg’s statement to the effect that the stuff of which the world is made is: energy. So the ultimate units of world-making are nano-units of energy  -  not of stable matter  -  with each of these enjoying but a fleeting existence, to be replaced by another fleeting appearance; so that within this cosmic randomness at the most micro level all can be conducted in a creative dance together-and-apart, together-and-apart; so that, having been formed by some infinitely energetic mind with their different properties and spin and so on (for it is mind that produces forms, according to the first principle of Platonic philosophy), these finite bundles of energy are then engaged in mutual entanglements and superpositions by that same infinitely energetic Self-Consciousness  -  as Aristotle describes God  -  and this by the application of other forms, namely, the forms of the grand symmetries and their attendant laws, the latter being also subject to change over different eras and areas in the story of continuous cosmic creation. So that what we see is a cosmos that is itself in constantly creative process through and through; the ideal stage on which the art- and craftsman-like mind of homo sapiens can play its contributory part in divine creation; and thereby reach the full dignity of its moral stature. Imagine then what used to be called particles, as differently formed waves of energy on the surface of an infinite ocean of energy in some infinitely energetic mind; imagine these carried by the tidal waves of energy that are the symmetrical formulae and their attendant laws of physics into a dance of creation capable of infinite variety, because of the infinity of combinations and permutations of both types of waves that is made possible by the sheer randomness of particle-waves popping in and out of nothingness, and you can see how continuous creation is just that, and genuinely that, as entities and indeed infinite worlds of infinitely potential complexities can result. As Nietzsche put it in his book on the great prophet from Babylon, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (alias, Zoroaster), who had such an influence on the Israelites when they were in captivity there: (the creator) must have chaos (in him) in order to give birth to a dancing star’  -   dance being the great artistic form for all moving things. Certainly, such an image of creation and continuous creativity, is more revealing of our native world, than is the image of a mechanical cosmos built from a supplied meccano set of the Newtonian kind. To be more specific, the quantum physicist making a probe into the micro-world of quantum physics in order to see what the hell is going on down there, comes away with a still taken from a perpetuum mobile, just as if you took a snapshot of a frame from a running film. But since this is not a mechanical cosmos, the investigating physicist cannot say that the next frame will yield the same picture. He can only calculate the possibilities or, better if he is lucky, the probabilities of what the next state of the observed entity will be; for each stage always misses its last definition by nano inches and nano seconds. But the Greeks knew that also, although they learned it from examples of constantly creative evolution at the macro rather than the micro level. And so, if you asked them the question, what is the primal matter from which the world is made, they would reply also that it is a limitless potentiality for the emergence of limitless formations of things. It is no surprise then to find pioneers of quantum physics, such as Heisenberg in particular, refer back to Aristotle in particular; and the nous poietikos, the art- and craftsman-like mind is to the fore once more. Creativity is the leading concept in coming to know the world of fact; the lure is beauty and the reward is goodness and not evil for all creatures great or small; irrespective of whether they themselves are good, bad or indifferent. Furthermore, this primordial creativity that creates the stage for our own small quantum of free and co-operative creativity, and for the awesome dignity of true moral stature that it confers on us as members of the species homo sapiens, points inevitably to the ur creator, not  -  most certainly not  -   Russell’s Mindless Omnipotent Matter rolling along on its blind and relentless way;  but the Cosmic Creator who is the source of all beauty and goodness; so that we may live and act in and towards this  world according to the refrain in the creation myth that opens the Bible: and God saw that it was good, and God saw that it was very good; so that if we create only what is good then, in the metaphorical language of the poet, we should deserve to be called daughters and sons, created in the image of the Great Creator Spirit,  who, according to the creation story that opens the Bible, first creates the world and in doing so shares with Adam-everyman the wisdom by which that same world is forever fashioned for the good of all creatures great and small; as they co-operate together, each according to each one’s ability, in that harmony that the grand scientific symmetries and their attendant laws of physics forever promise and achieve. And one further feature that is highlighted in the works of modern scientists like Einstein, but mostly the pioneers of quantum physics such as Bohr, Dirac, Heisenberg and Schrodinger: this is their discovery, much to their initial surprise, that the elegance and beauty (aesthetic terms) of the initial hypotheses with which they work, together with the fittingness (an aesthetic term that doubles as a moral term) of these hypotheses, actually seems to be itself the guarantee  that the hypotheses will turn out to be true and fruitful in revealing cosmic reality as it comes from the hands of the Great Spirit. Beauty, goodness and truth must then be the criteria that must in turn enable us to make imaginative and blessed contact with the reality of creation and Creator; so to confirm Stevens’ conviction that it is in the world of imagination that we are blessed and empowered by the most beautiful, good and true contact with reality; as beauty attracts to all that is good equally for all, harmonious and fitting; and that then turns out to be true for a cosmic reality that is itself a moral enterprise through and through; the designer stage on which our little drama is played out on this infinitely negligible little planet, in time and for eternity.

So we may well conclude that it is indeed the imagination that receives and transmits the message, the visionary and creative content of which is the wisdom by which Almighty God, creator of heaven and earth, designs a constantly creative cosmos for the harmonious and aesthetic good of all interdependent creatures, shalom; and this imagination belongs primarily to the creative artist in  word and music, in stone and colour; so that the professional artist, and indeed the artist in all of us, is the true prophet, and the poet the most accomplished of these, crafting visions for our future out of the possibilities revealed in every visionary cross-section of deep, meditative inscape of our space-time cosmos. So the Bible assures us, particularly in its prophetic books; and every inscape of quantum physics confirms.

The angel of imagination is then the angel of reality; even if it is often only on the tenth day that we realise this. But that still leaves the second topic to be tackled in the form of the question: whose imagination are we talking about here as the medium by which the wisdom becomes ours? Is it the imagination of homo so-called sapiens, and the best amongst these; or is it the imaginations of some heavenly beings called angels who convey to us the message of the wisdom of God inscribed in creation in which our weak and perverted imaginations either fail to see it, or distort it as we regularly do in order to serve our selfish interests on this lean earth? Or perhaps a bit of both. Wallace, it is clear, favours the first option: we are the angels of reality. But is he right? The quickest way to answer that question in a short lecture is this: in the twin streams in which Judaeo-Christian ethical monotheism came down the ages to us, namely, the Biblical stream and the predominantly Platonic philosophical stream that Christians borrowed liberally in order to give a reasoned account of the faith that was in them, there do appear heavenly beings that mediate between the heavenly realm and the earthly. So for instance in the Biblical tradition there is a constant traffic between heaven and earth of angels and other heavenly beings  such as Sophia, wisdom personified in the  Bible, in which these heavenly beings carry as messages to human kind specific examples of the wisdom by which God creates the world for the good of all; and some of these are messages pointing to the prophets on earth that God has chosen to be special seers of that wisdom; messages of the kind that the angel Gabriel brought with respect to Jesus, for example. Furthermore, Sophia herself tells us in the Bible, in her own words that she came and pitched her tent amongst her special people, the nation of Israel. But there are also examples in the Biblical tradition of traffic going the other way, as when human beings, like the apostle Paul for example, claim to have been rapt up into heaven, there to learn the secrets of the wisdom by which God makes the world and providentially guides it to eternal shalom; and to bring these revelations back to earth when the rapture is over and feet are firmly planted on this lean earth once more. Similarly, in the twinned Platonic philosophical tradition there are personified beings such as Aristotle’s Agent Intellect or Plotinus’s Intellectual Principle, complex names for divine minds which mediate to humanity and its world the archetypal forms or ideas that constitute the wisdom according to which the world is created and providentially governed to its goal in eternal shalom. You would find a very accessible example of this in a book written by a certain Boethius, a Roman Patrician who had fallen foul of the Visigoths who now ruled Rome, as he awaits torture and death in his cell, condemned to death for allegedly attempting to undermine Rome’s new masters. The book is called The Consolation of Philosophy (philo-sophia); in substance a diary of visits of the same Sophia who pitched her tent in Israel, now arriving in his cell to fill him with the wisdom that will see him through his ordeal of sealing his commitment to the wisdom of God by his very death; like Jesus on Calvary. Then, in that same philosophical tradition also there are tales of travels in the opposite direction as human beings are rapt up to the heavenly realms. I take as example here the case of Parmenides, already mentioned, a philosopher who wielded an enormous influence on Socrates and Plato, and so on the dominant Platonic tradition of philosophy that is known as The Great Tradition to this day; and I choose him especially because of the huge influence he wielded on GMH himself  -  I do not have the time to expand upon this influence here; but you may read about  it to your heart’s content in Vol. IV of The Collected Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins, courtesy of Oxford University Press. Parmenides, in a preface to his extant masterpiece, describes how he was taken up to the heavenly realms in a chariot, by heavenly beings that he calls ‘the daughters of the sun’  -  the sun being the most ancient and ubiquitous symbol for the Creator of the cosmos. The axles of the chariot that bore Parmenides to the heavens  ‘glowed red in their sockets,’ Parmenides asserts, yet gave off music as of a piper piping a peaceful tune at sunrise; at dawn when all our prospects are bright and warm; and Parmenides is then borne into the presence of the Goddess, who shares with him in metric verse the whole inspiring wisdom by which the world is created and renewed with every dawn. There is a replica of Parmenides’ story told by a prophetess named Abiodun of the Cherubim and Seraphim church in Africa; one of an increasing number of churches founded and led by prophets that are independent of the mission churches that are, naturally, linked to colonisation and all of its brutal injustice. Abiodun tells of how, when she goes to sleep, some heavenly beings come to take her up to heaven where she is taught the true wisdom of the Creator, and then reliably conducts her back to her bed just before she wakes up at dawn; when she then meditates by quietly recollecting in tranquillity the content and emotions of the hymns she was taught; like the singers of tales had done from time immemorial.

Now that amounts to a remarkable and sustained similarity between the two streams, the Biblical and the philosophical, and it brings this creation faith down the ages to modern times. But what does it do to answer the question as to the classes of messengers of true wisdom to which so much testimony is borne: are there at least two classes, heavenly beings and homo the stupid, or just one class? I think that if you scrutinise the material closely, you will conclude that Wallace is right, and in the words of a pop song from my youth, ‘there ain’t nobody here but us chickens;’. For in the version of the stories that have Parmenides or Abiodun taken up to heaven, it is obvious that it is humans that are the real messengers  -  angelos means messenger  -  and the heavenly beings are just taxi drivers; whereas in the case of undoubtedly heavenly beings that are said to come down to earth, such as Sophia and Logos, the feminine Wisdom and the equivalent but masculine Word of God  -  and you can throw in for good measure the Spirit of God who is something of a cross-dresser, at the very least in the early Syriac church  -  you are plainly in the presence of the personification  of attributes of God, in order to convey the truth that it is God’s own wisdom, power, spirit and  glory that directly informs homo so called sapiens as it is passed on from day to day and night to night in the very act of continuous  creation itself; for so the prophets of Israel of whose profession Jesus was a card carrying and fully paid-up member, inform us. Therefore, on this lean earth that is locked down by humanity’s satanic will to make it serve our own most selfish and foolish ambitions that are as puny and as counterproductive as the minds that entertain them; it is we who are tasked on this negligible planet in any case with the Sisyphus-like labours of letting the deadly repercussions of our selfish misuse of earth and others burn that very selfishness out of us; so to replace selfishness with loving earth and others as we love ourselves. So it is in the course of the loving quest for the wisdom of God (philo-sophia) by which cosmos is initiated and then guided to a state of eternal shalom that all may share, that we come to encounter God and become creative like God after our measure; becoming, metaphorically speaking, sons and daughters of God and heirs to eternal shalom. It is a journey of heart and mind and spirit that begins in the elementary ability to touch but the hem of God’s outer garment in the one damn thing after another impression of the world; but then probes deeper to see, beyond all fragmented and self-centred impressions, the grand symmetries and laws of nature that bring all these inter-related and interdependent things into a blessed harmony of effort and attainment that can lead all together to eternal shalom for all; to the realm of God’s being and activity that is personified as Wisdom/Word and Spirit. It is all a journey of mind through mind’s own configurations; and so it is from this realm that is dominated by impressions of personified wisdom and spirit that it is easiest to be carried away, into the immediate, awesome and blessed presence of the Absolute Source of all that is beautiful, good and true; into the presence, as Dante put it in the Paradiso, of ‘the Love that moves the sun and the other stars;’ the Sun God again. But there is one staging post on this stagecoach journey of the human to the divine spirit for which more specific directions must be issued. This the point at which we have reached the one-damn-thing-after-another stage and wish to move beyond it; but can’t see how to do so, since the everyday world for all of us is just that, a cacophony of clamours for attention from every Tom, Dick and Harry and every one damn thing after another; every damned one of them arousing emotions that themselves clash, the one with the other. At this staging post, one must be directed to act like the Irish fili, the official poets and wisdom men of the realm, who locked themselves away in a dark hut until the poem came up from the dark recesses of the mind that Jung called the collective subconscious of the race  -  a depth of consciousness to which the harmony of archetypal forms or ideas had been driven by the noisy clamour and chaos of waking life and emotions  -  but where the congress of these archetypal ideas continues to work to source all creative visions. Or like the prophet Muhammad, you may sequester yourself in a dark cave; or like the prophet Jesus you may go out into the desert where life is sparse enough to be entirely unobtrusive. Or, more practical surely, just go to bed and go asleep; for the fact that the sleeping mind is subconscious does not mean that it is not forever active; and even I, a poor philosopher but no poet, can testify to the number of times that an attempt to see some clear vision in tumultuous impressions of pullulating life that had failed up to bedtime, yielded to the shy and tentative outlines of a vision that had some share of truth, beauty and goodness about it, and was there waiting for me in my first waking moments. All creative visions, great or small, come out of the darkness; a darkness which, as Aquinas was wont to say, results from an excess of divine light, such as the human eye, outer or inner, can never fully accommodate. I began with a poet who turned out to be something of a prophet; and so I should like to end with a prophet whose prose was pure poetry, cast entirely in the language of the imagination, all of it borrowed from the creation, and with never an abstract concept within sight or hearing; and, finally, with two contemporary Irish poets whose poetry came closer than most of the followers of the prophet I have in mind; self-styled followers who have unremittingly betrayed that prophet in virtually all the centuries that have passed since he was first rejected and hanged on a cross almost two millennia ago; the man  -  and he was a man and no god  -  Jesus of Nazareth; the man I can still without hesitation conjure up in the words of an old 8th century Irish hymn: ‘Be thou my vision, great lord of my heart/ Naught be all else to me save that thou art/ thou my best thought in the day and the night/ Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.’

The principle from which all the rest of the teachings of Jesus on the rational faith we should have and hold and the morality we should practice is this: ‘Love even your enemies, so that you may be the sons (daughters did not count back in those days) of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends the rain on the just and the unjust.’ The sun with its heat and light, and the rain that falls from the heavens, are the twin sources of all life on earth; and the sources also of all of life’s healings and enhancements. God gives all of this life as a free gift, that is to say, as grace, in time and eternity, to saint and sinner alike, without condition or discrimination of persons; for this God, that Jesus prayed to as his and our heavenly Father, Creator of heaven and earth, is the God of unconditional love and relentless grace. Prophets used ritual dramas, another artistic form, in order to get across their message about the nature and content of the wisdom by which God makes and providentially guides the world to eternal shalom. Jesus did not institute any new ritual drama or sacrament, much less seven of same; he simply availed himself of the oldest and most universal sacrament in the world: the family meal at which the paterfamilias presides at table, and shares out the food and drink, staff and symbol of life, to all at table, before taking some for himself, and therefore at whatever cost to himself, especially whenever food and drink are scarce and there is not enough to go round to everyone that needs to be fed. Jesus just added a few dramatic touches to that commonest of all rituals: the paterfamilias, he said, should take the food in open, chaliced hands and the drink in the open chalice, and in gratitude bless God for it; for it is pure gift or grace (hence the name, eucharist) and not a private property to be held in closed hands, i.e. fists, and locked away in closed containers; but no, it is now a grace that symbolises life itself, it must be broken up and poured out and given to others first, before it goes back to the giver for her or his own sustenance and pleasure. There is a sacrifice therefore at the heart of eucharist, and it has nothing whatever to do with the offering of a human sacrifice on a Roman cross, designed to allay the worst effects of God’s justice by this savage punishment for the sins of the race. Rather is the paterfamilias the model for all of us whose eucharistic lives entail the sacrifice of what we need for our own lives so that those who need but have no access to such livelihood might live. Furthermore  -  and Jesus illustrates this at table in his own house, in the first story that Mark tells of a meal-eucharistic (as all meals should be)  -  when he follows the hint of our Heavenly Paterfamilias making the sun rise and the rain fall on saint and sinner alike and equally; and invites to his table the local call-girls, members of the oldest profession; even giving them higher places than the self-righteous Pharisees; and this without requiring from these most social outcasts any preliminary confession of guilt or purpose of amendment; but depending entirely on the spirit of unconditional grace and love that is breathed by that very sacramental drama, to reach out to these abused ones and give them the same access to the patrimony that by God’s own will is the inheritance of sinners as well as saints; enemies as well as friends. The God of relentless love and grace ever in action in the most universal natural and communal ritual of all. And there is a further level of deep symbolism in the simple, homely meal as Jesus sees it:  it was used also in his milieu as the symbol for the shalom of the end-time, the time of fulfilment; and when it was used of these last days it surely ruled out any possibility of a tribunal of strict justice that all would have to undergo, with the saints and the shriven going through to eternal life, and the unshriven sinners to a life of eternal torture. That is not to say that there is no punishment for sin in the Bible as Jesus knew it. But as the prophets of Israel up to Jesus insisted, the punishment for sin comes from the earth itself, ravished by over-exploitation or turned into a wasteland by weapons of mass destruction; and from those of our fellows driven to revenge by wars military or economic that destroy lives and livelihood. As the prophet Ezekiel warned the Prince of Tyre whose ‘wisdom’ in trading had impoverished their trading partners: ‘I will bring strangers upon you, the most terrible of the nations, and they shall draw their swords (strap on their suicide bombs?), and you shall die.’ God adds no punishment to that which we bring upon ourselves; rather do his prophets suggest that our evil-doing will only be reversed if we allow this revenge to cleanse us like fire of our own death-dealing ways. To this punishment God adds nothing, either here or hereafter. This conviction that God is the god of unconditional love and relentless grace, who will never add any punishment for our sins than that which our sinning inflicts upon ourselves is so central to the faith of the historical Jesus that he puts it across insistently in every possible form of preaching and ritual; in offering universal and unconditional access to eucharist, of course; in a plethora of parables, his signature imaginative mode or teaching; and in his practice of faith healing, so well attested during his public ministry. In the parable popularly entitled ‘everyman a penny,’ for instance,  the labourers in the vineyard agree on a certain wage at the beginning of the day; but when they come to the pay-point they find that the lazybones who joined the workforce later in the day are paid the same wages. To the objections of the early labourers in the vineyard, the owner (God the Father) retorts that he can do what he likes with his own money; to which he adds the pointed rejoinder: is your eye evil because I am good? The sight of God’s unlimited love and grace to all, should be greeted by joy for all concerned; and not by begrudging envy. The same insight emerges from the many, many stories of the healing ministry in which Jesus engaged; for there can scarcely be any doubt about the fact that the prophet offered a strong line in faith healing also. Now the stories of these healings regularly reveal a widespread popular belief that all forms of injury and ill-health and mishap are divine punishments for sins committed by the sufferers or even by their progenitors. But Jesus insisted that these should be seen purely as occasions on which to inform the blind and the lame and the lepers and the hungry that their ailments are no punishments for anyone’s sins; and least of all are they divine punishments. Quite to the contrary, Jesus informs them, these set-backs in life are to be seen as occasions for the exercises of the grace of healing that then illustrate the exercise of the power of the reign of God as a rule of relentless grace in action. So much for prophets reciting and writing like poets;  let me end now with two Irish poets who act like prophets after the manner and practice of Jesus himself; as they take their religious lessons concerning the God of unconditional love and grace straight from this wayward creation. First, Patrick Kavanagh’s poem with the quirky title:  Miss Universe

I learned, I learned  -  when one might be inclined
To think, too late, you cannot recover your losses  -
I learned something of the nature of God’s mind,
Not the abstract Creator but He who caresses The daily and nightly earth; 
He who refuses
To take failure for an answer till again and again is worn.
Love is waiting for you, waiting for the violence that she chooses
From the tepidity of the common round beyond exhaustion or scorn.
What was once is still and there is no need for remorse;
There are no recriminations in Heaven.
O the sensual throb
Of the explosive body, the tumultuous thighs!
Adown a summer lane comes Miss Universe
She whom no lecher’s art can rob
Though she is not the virgin who was wise.

And last but by no means least, Cathal O Searcaigh; who more than deserves his place in this company, whatever he might have been up to in the exotic East; for this company of poets is a broad church of saints and sinners alike, like every church we have ever known.  The poem is entitled Tearmonn, Sanctuary
Here in the hollow of the mountains it is more peaceful than a country chapel.
I walk, cap in pocket, silently down between the grass-clump pews, and at the alter-height, stand a moment, while a faint breeze  -  the altar boy  - dispenses heather incense everywhere.

Yet in this mountain chapel there’s no talk of rule or regulation and I’m not plagued by the brutal piety of the pulpit threatening those who err with torment. This is no God of tears or God of thorns, God of Tyranny or God of Mercy, this God I am now looking at but a God indifferent to my hindrance or my help.

Here it is with his life rather than his words that whatever God there is makes himself known; The source of all energy. Creator of the Elements. Enough for him to stir, blossom and push towards the light in every new-grown shoot.
His joy is the lustre of every color, he gives life to the air around me with his life.

With every breath I take I breathe him from the pure air
As fresh as new-baked bread, as cool as wine.  

Bibliography

James P. Mackey Modern Theology: A Sense of Direction (Jul 30, 1987)

James P. Mackey (March 3, 2011) The Critique of Theological Reason

James P. (Ed) Mackey (Jan 1, 1998)  Studies in World Christianity: Volume 4: Part 1 (1998) (The Edinburgh Review of Theology and Religion)

James Patrick Mackey (1966) The grace of God, the response of man: A study in basic theology

 

Other 2013 Hopkins Festival Links

Hart Crane and Gerard Manley Hopkins || Love in the Writing of Gerard Manley Hopkins || Poet as Prophet || Romanantic Poetics || Hopkins nad the Church of England || Meister Eckhart and his Influence on Gerard Manley Hopkins || Robert Bridges and Gerard Manley Hopkins || Saint Patrick's

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