Spirituality of the Readings
The readings for this nearly mid-summer Sunday reflect the beauties of the earth, its golden harvests, its astonishing Spring, its delicate birds, beasts, mountains, hills and plains. Infinite surprises for us, if our eyes can see.
I want to quote a complete poem in this space, hoping that I am not just indulging my attachment to poetry. The Jesuit poet Hopkins was so filled with the world’s beauty that I want him to speak here, in the poem called “Pied Beauty.”
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Some of the language is unusual, I admit. * But if you spend time with these glorious images you will come to love our ever-evolving blue planet like someone bathing in ocean swirl. All of it luxuriant, all of it precious. Can you feel it?
In the First Reading the Lord uses this ebb and flow of seasons to show how his visceral love for the earth does its job.
He says this: just as the rain and snow come to earth and return to the heavens when they have done their job of watering, making the lands fertile and fruitful, so too does God’s word. It comes to the world and does not return until it has nourished and moistened life in every single creature that will receive it. A fruitful harvest, says the Psalm.
St. Paul speaks of all creation groaning in labor pains even until now (Second Reading). Human beings too groan within themselves like seeds which break open and push their way through tough ground and then evolve into full trees that stretch up for Christ’s light.
Can such rich images apply to you and me? How good is your own soil? God wants to pour his grace into it always. Do you and I groan and yearn for the goodness of God which is already lavished upon us? Do we take time each day to let love in? Or do we listen on Sunday, perhaps with some interest, but then forget everything by afternoon? Or, if my experience is any guide, by the end of Mass!
Jesus lists a number of things we might need to correct in order to accept the gifts he has ready for us (Gospel). We might be shallow ground, he says. Or rocky soil. Weeds might choke us. How discouraging. Must I pretend to be rich soil, though I know my shallowness? No. I must be fully myself and allow God to do the rest. The Indian poet Tagore put it this way:
The cloud stood humbly in a corner of the sky. The morning crowned it with splendor.
Be humble. Join in the revolving refreshment of all earthly things. Open your leaves. Allow the sun.
* For convenience, here is a glossary of some of Hopkins’ terms:
pied: patches of a number of colors, as various birds and other animals have. See also, the Pied Piper. dappled: marked by spots of a different shade, tone, or color
brinded: an archaic word referring to grey or brown
streaks or patterns, as in a cat’s fur.
stipple: dots or small touches of the brush, used to make a painting
(or a newspaper photo). fallow: Land plowed but left unseeded during a growing season.
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University