Conversion


10.

With an anvil-ding
And with fire in him forge thy will
Or rather, rather then, stealing as Spring
Through him, melt him but master him still:
Whether at once, as once at a crash Paul,
Or as Austin, a lingering-out sweet skill,
Make mercy in all of us, out of us all
Mastery, but be adored, but be adored King.

The Wreck of the Deutschland
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

 

 

This the second half of the prayer continues the play of paradoxes. or rather contrasts. The forging of will as a blacksmith or alluring like a spring day.

God forged Saul’s will with fire. His conversion was as a crash (of lightning and love): And as he went on his journey, it came to pass that he drew nigh to Damascus; and suddenly a light from heaven shined round about him. And falling on the ground, he heard a voice saying to him: Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? Who said: Who art thou, Lord? And he: I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. It is hard for thee to kick against the goad. And he trembling and astonished, said: Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said to him: Arise, and go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what thou must do. Now the men who went in company with him, stood amazed, hearing indeed a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. But they leading him by the hands, brought him to Damascus. And he was there three days, without sight, and he did neither eat nor drink.(Acts 9:3-9)

Austin refers to St Augustine of Hippo. Perhaps you could say that he was forged by time; as in seasons; as in the sweet force of spring. In his Confessions we can read about his conversion. It was a movement in slow pace with the prayers of his mother leading the way over the years until he finally found his faith: I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo, I heard the voice as of a boy or girl, I know not which, coming from a neighbouring house, chanting, and oft repeating, “Take up and read; take up and read.” Immediately my countenance was changed, and I began most earnestly to consider whether it was usual for children in any kind of game to sing such words; nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So, restraining the torrent of my tears, I rose up, interpreting it no other way than as a command to me from Heaven to open the book, and to read the first chapter I should light upon. (Confessions VIII:12)

Hopkins prays for our conversion and that we will evangelize. He prays that mercy be sent through us. That God gives us grace and that we may imitate him: in all of us, out of us all. God is mastering us, lets pray for mercy to adore him.

And so ends part one of this multithreaded poem.

 

 

During lent I will publish the stanzas from the Wreck of the Deutschland, one by one. Sometimes with a small commentary or with some aspect about the poem. Hopefully someone will be able to use this as a form of prayer during Lent. Click here to get to stanza 1.

4.

I am soft sift
In an hourglass―at the wall
Fast, but mined with a motion, a drift,
And it crowds and it combs to the fall;
I steady as a water in a well, to a poise, to a pane,
But roped with, always, all the way down from the tall
Fells or flanks of the voel, a vein
Of the gospel proffer, a pressure, a principle, Christ’s gift.

The Wreck of the Deutschland
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

 

 

This is one of the most beautiful pieces of poetry I know. After the previous stanzas on despair and terror, this calm stanza is so restful and soothing. The characteristics of sift and of water is that both always complies and adjust to its surroundings, increasing entropy, calmly, like water in a pane. Like soft sift in an hourglass.

There are some rather unusual words in this stanza that may need to be explained: The noun “Proffer” is something like a promised offer or an offer with a promise. The word “voel” is probably used as Welsh for mountain (spells foel in modern Welsh). Speaking of mountains, “Roped with” (compare with world’s strand in stanza 1) can be seen as a metaphor for a mountain climber clinging to a rope (as we cling to God), while the body is striving downwards. Of course it could also be an image for the streams of water on the mountain side that drifts downwards.

In 1875, when the poem was written, Hopkins was a priest candidate at St. Beuno’s in Northern Wales. Very close by the college is the St Winifred Wells and perhaps he was picturing this very soothing place in the metaphor about the water in a well. One of Hopkins biographists, Norman White, has some interesting thoughts about this. He noted that Hopkins most probably heard about St Winifred’s Well the first time from Kenelm Vaughan, who had been cured from Tuberculosis by drinking its water. They met when Hopkins was received into the Catholic Church and – Martin further suggests – it may have been this day Hopkins – inspired by Vaughan – decided on his priestly vocation. The Wells was most certainly tightly linked to Hopkins impression of Catholicism and to me this stanza may be read as a metaphor for Catholic faith.

 

So, who was St. Winifred who gave her name to this well? According to the legend she came from a wealthy family and was taught in religious matters by her uncle St. Beuno in early seventh century. She used to sit at St. Bueno´s feet when he preached and her love for God matured over the years and she decided to become a nun. She served God in a small nunnery under the guidance of Saint Beuno. A young Welsh prince named Cradoc had fallen in love with her and when she refused to marry he one day pursued her, she tried to get refuge in a church in Holywell. Cradoc however caught up with her and cut her head of. In the place where her head fell the well sprang up. Then, it is told, the martyr was raised to life by the prayers of Saint Beuno. Ever after she bore the mark of her martyrdom by a red circle on her skin about her neck.

One should remember to read this stanza by the fond of the actual sea disaster where the five nuns met their destiny. (I will write more about them later). Perhaps Hopkins pondered the similarities of this legend about a persecuted nun who searched sanctuary but met her death and water sprang up in a well – And the five (also persecuted) nuns who searched refuge but met their death on the water of the river Thames?

 

 

During lent I will publish the stanzas from the Wreck of the Deutschland, one by one. Sometimes with a small commentary or with some aspect about the poem. Hopefully someone will be able to use this as a form of prayer during Lent.

3.

The frown of his face
Before me, the hurtle of hell
Behind, where, where was a, where was a place?
I whirled out wings that spell
And fled with a fling of the heart to the heart of the Host.
My heart, but you were dovewinged, I can tell,
Carrier-witted, I am bold to boast,
To flash from the flame to the flame then, tower from the grace to the grace.

The Wreck of the Deutschland
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

 

 

Hopkins mentions in the same letter from August 1877 that “what refers to myself in the poem is all strictly and literally true and did all occur; nothing is added for poetical padding.” So how to interpret this stanza?

A rewarding way to read it is as a statement about his own conversion. As when one suddenly understands that there is only One Holy and Apostolic Church… But what does this say about where one is coming from? Where there a place at all? Perhaps God angels carry us in steps, from grace to deeper grace… From the heart found in the High church movement within the Anglican Church to the Church with the heart of the Host… (Isn’t this poem wonderfully Catholic?)

A common interpretation is to group this stanza together with the previous. This would work fine with the quote from an entry in his Journal as well. The entry is dated 18 September 1873, about two years earlier. He describes how he wakes up from a nightmare where something or someone leaped unto him and held him fast. He could not speak and had lost all muscular stress. Hopkins describes how he is trying to get out of this state of cataplexy until he finally “cried on the holy name and by degrees recovered myself” (Compare with “I whirled out wings that spell” from the stanza above)

 

Then he continues: It made me think that this was how the souls in hell would be imprisoned in their bodies as in prisons and of what St. Theresa says of the ‘little press in the wall’ where she felt herself to be in her vision.”

In St. Teresa of Avila’s horrible vision of Hell she is writing how she sees herself as the paralyzed viewer: “A long time after the Lord had already granted me many of the favors I’ve mentioned and other very lofty ones, while I was in prayer one day, I suddenly found that, without knowing how, I had seemingly been put in hell. I understood that the Lord wanted me to see the place the devils had prepared there for me and which I merited because of my sins. This experience took place within the shortest space of time, but even were I to live for many years I think it would be impossible for me to forget it. The entrance it seems to me was similar to a very long and narrow alleyway, like an oven, low and dark and confined; the floor seemed to me to consist of dirty, muddy water emitting foul stench and swarming with putrid vermin. At the end of the alleyway a hole that looked like a small cupboard was hollowed out in the wall; there I found I was placed in a cramped condition. All of this was delightful to see in comparison with what I felt there. What I have described can hardly be exaggerated.

 

 

During lent I will publish the stanzas from the Wreck of the Deutschland, one by one. Sometimes with a small commentary or with some aspect about the poem. Hopefully someone will be able to use this as a form of prayer during Lent.

 

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

 

Psalm 23

 

In the Midrashim, the Jewish “commentaries” to the Torah, there is a story about when Moses was tending Jethro’s flocks in the wilderness: Moses notices that one kid is missing. He leaves the other sheep to go after the stray one. Moses finds the kid when it stood drinking in a pool of water. Moses understands that the kid was thirsty and that this was the reason he ran away. He puts the kid on his shoulder to carry it back.

I find this story from Shemos Rabbah (2:2) interesting: A story about the lamb and the shepherd, where water is central in the course of events. It is the same old story told over and over again. In the Midrash this is God testing Moses as a leader to see if he was compassionate enough to care for the flock. He satisfies the needs of each, according to the individual’s unique capacity as Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz puts it. Moses cared for and understood the lamb. He brought it back home without judgement.

In the house of the publicans Jesus got criticized for sharing a meal with sinners. He replies: For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. (Mathew 18:12). He transforms a sinner into an Apostle. Jesus might very well refer to this particular story about Moses when he, at this time, tells the parable of the lost sheep:

What man of you that hath an hundred sheep, and if he shall lose one of them, doth he not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after that which was lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, lay it upon his shoulders, rejoicing? And coming home, call together his friends and neighbours, saying to them: Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost? I say to you that even so there shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance. (Luke 15)

Returning to the herd is done by penance. The thirsty lamb was not sinful, he was thirsty. He was not judged. The water purified the lamb just as the penance purifies the sinner. The baptism, the baptized.

A few verses further down in Luke 15, there is another story of a lost one: The prodigal son. It also depicts the feast of the reverted:

When the prodigal son, returns home, he is welcomed in abundance, His father fell upon his neck and kissed him. He is dressed in the finest robe, a ring are put on his hand and the fatted calf is slaughtered. The older son that remained home, working on the fields, fails to see what the celebration is all about. He doesn’t understand his brothers’ remorse, his fathers’ rejoice.

They did not celebrate the achievements of the prodigal son; he did time of anguish and hard work, sharing husks with the swine; he knew he was not worthy of a grand celebration. He was full of remorse. The prodigal son had humility and expected nothing of his father; wishing merely to be a hired servant. He did not put himself above his brother; he came home to stay, to repent: This was not a celebration for the moment, they where celebrating the penance. Previously, he was living a life of the dead. Staying in his father’s house was the road to life. He was lost, but now he was found.

 

The Lord is my shepherd, he is my Father who brought me to life. He carried me home. I must try to live accordingly. I must be humble. The trust he has put in me is a demanding trust. This is the penance of the lamb.

 

 

 

The Good Shepherd

 

 

I’m so thankful. I’m so happy.

Just got home after the rite of full Communion and the Confirmation. More than two years ago I suddenly and surprisingly understood that I was meant for the One Holy and Apostolic Catholic Church and today I’m in full communion with it.

Howdy Benedict XVI, I’m with you now! 🙂

Waiting for a swim

I’m much like the little girl in this photo: I have taken all precautions and now I’m just waiting for the dip – My swim across the Tiber is getting closer and closer.

I met Father I.F. yesterday. He is such a wonderful man. It was the second last RCIA meeting and I have grown much attached to these meetings, but I feel ready to move on. I still have so much to learn but it is time for another form, a new phase.

After the class I stayed for a while and we discussed the practical things, like paperwork; as usual I have a hard time getting the paperwork done. I don’t know why I always have to do everything in the last minute… Well he said it shouldn’t be an obstacle anyway. I got most of the papers I need and still got a good chance at getting it all in time.

The service will be held at 5 p.m. June the twelfth – so I’m almost there now. I can almost touch it.

We set up a date for the general confession. I’m very happy for it but it makes me think a lot of my previous sins though, and that is kind of depressing. Its forty two years of a quite sinful life. There are some heavy regrets there which I haven’t thought of for a long time. Why have I lived the life as I have? Why did I have to do all those bad choices? How much have I hurt people around me? How much have I hurt God?

And how lucky I am to have found this path to tread, I don’t give thanks enough. What wonderful people I meet. It is such a strange feeling: I’m both very happy and kind of sad at the same time.

It’s a closure.

The very first time I visited a Catholic mass the reading of the day was when the Lord calls Samuel, from the first book of the Kings. Samuel was only a child, and he kept running to Heli each time he heard the voice of God.

Lord calls for the child Samuel

And the Lord called Samuel. And he answered: Here am I. And he ran to Heli and said: Here am I: for thou didst call me. He said: I did not call: go back and sleep. And he went and slept.

I was sitting as far back in the Church as I could, feeling both uncomfortable and curious at the same time. I was trying not to stick out to much. Standing up, sitting down, and hoping no one would notice me. I felt misplaced, even unworthy.

And the Lord called Samuel again. And Samuel arose and went to Heli, and said: Here am I: for thou calledst me. He answered: I did not call thee, my son: return and sleep. Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither had the word of the Lord been revealed to him.

I started to get the feeling that someone knew I was listening. That someone saw me there in the back, in the old parts of the church, with the hard wooden pews and the great wooden Madonna. Not anyone in the congregation, they where all in front of me. Nor the priests, I was too far in the back.

And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose up and went to Heli. And said: Here am I: for thou didst call me.

I was listening intensively.

Then Heli understood that the Lord called the child, and he said to Samuel: Go, and sleep: and if he shall call thee any more, thou shalt say: Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and slept in his place.

I had not, truly, been to a church since my confirmation (into the Swedish Lutheran Church) when I was 14 – almost 30 years ago. Later I have of course attended weddings and funerals and so forth, but never as a believer, and never at a Catholic church. It was very awkward for me: – Me, a Christian??? It can’t be!!! And still there I was, of my own free will, in a church, feeling the presence of God.

And the Lord came and stood: and he called, as he had called the other times: Samuel, Samuel. And Samuel said: Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.

There it was:

Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.

I was overwhelmed. It was as the whole reading for the day was directed solely towards me.

Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.

This was what I had moving towards all my life, without knowing it. A year earlier I had started to read a little about the history of Roman Catholic Church, mostly to better understand some references in a book – than in search for a faith… Then one book lead to another. I found a forum for Catholic converts on the Internet, who helped me a lot with my questions, but it was here, in the back of St Erik’s Church in Stockholm, on a wooden bench, my year long investigation ended up and transformed into belief.

Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.

There I was ready to listen to him, however strange it seemed to me, what ever my friends and relatives would think. I was ready to listen.

In fact, ever since then, more than a year ago, this is what I have devoted myself to do. Probably I’m not all that good at it, but this is solely the most important thing in my life:

– Learning to listen.

 

 

St Erik Catholic Church Stockholm
St. Erik’s Catholic Church, “Katolska domkyrkan” in Stockholm.
In mid January 2006
I sat on one of the back rows on the left side.

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