The Wreck of the Deutschland (4)

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            Not out of his bliss

         Springs the stress felt

      Nor first from heaven (and few know this)

         Swings the stroke dealt—

   Stroke and a stress that stars and storms deliver,

   That guilt is hushed by, hearts are flushed by and melt—

      But it rides time like riding a river

(And here the faithful waver, the faithless fable and miss).

 

… but in the horrible fact that God, for our sake, was born as a human being and we killed him.  The experience of God in nature is not a happy one, though it is capable of erasing our guilt and “melting” the hardest of hearts—but we see it over and over again in history, in the knowledge that we are God-murderers.  Even the faithful can’t stand to face this knowledge, and paganism misses it with its fables of a dying god who is only a symbol of the renewal of life in the spring, not the individual incarnate God.

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            It dates from day

         Of his going in Galilee;

      Warm-laid grave of a womb-life grey;

         Manger, maiden’s knee;

   The dense and the driven Passion, and frightful sweat:

   Thence the discharge of it, there its swelling to be,

      Though felt before, though in high flood yet—

What none would have known of it, only the heart, being hard at bay,

 

The knowledge that can save us begins with the incarnation (the “going” of Jesus is both his birth and his death—though the death occurred in Judaea, not Galilee:  the grey—unfinished?—life of the embryo in the womb is at the same time the grave predestined in being conceived in a human womb).  The life of Christ from his birth in a manger to the frightful sweat of his crucifixion, is where we find the most intimate knowledge of God, which is both the knowledge of his complicity in human life and the knowledge that our suffering is deserved.  At the times when we are truly desperate, “hard at bay,” we are best fitted to speak this truth:

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            Is out with it!  Oh,

         We lash with the best or worst

      Word last!  How a lush-kept plush-capped sloe

         Will, mouthed to flesh-burst,

   Gush!—flush the man, the being with it, sour or sweet,

   Brim, in a flash, full!—Hither then, last or first,

      To hero of Calvary, Christ’s, feet—

Never ask if meaning it, wanting it, warned of it—men go.

 

The “best word” we speak (and bind ourselves to:  one meaning of “lash”) is that God became one of us;  the “worst word” (with which we “lash” ourselves in the sense of whip) is that we put the innocent God-made-flesh to death.  “Last” means “at last”—namely, driven to this confession by the experience of dread and despair:  and in an instant, like the instant taste of a fruit, the confession allows grace and salvation to “brim” in us.  The believer may be “sour or sweet,” willing or unwilling, driven by fear or by desire—but needs to come to the foot of the Cross—taste suffering and guilt—to be saved.

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            Be adored among men,

         God, three-numberèd form;

      Wring thy rebel, dogged in den,

         Man’s malice, with wrecking and storm.

   Beyond saying sweet, past telling of tongue,

   Thou art lightning and love, I found it, a winter and warm;

      Father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung:

Hast thy dark descending and most art merciful then.

 

Hopkins prays that God, three persons in one deity, will bring us rebellious and malicious sinners to the experience of dread needed to “wring” the confession of faith out of us.  The paradox is that God uses “wrecking and storm,” “lightning” and “winter” to show us his Fatherly love:  we see his mercy best against the dark experience of guilt.

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            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 swéet skíll,

      Make mercy in all of us, out of us all

Mastery, but be adored, but be adored King.

 

Our conversion might be sudden and violent, like Paul’s, or gentle and gradual as Augustine’s, but either way, let God take possession of our souls by revealing to us our need for his mercy.  That this need has already been fulfilled in Christ is reason to adore the divine master.

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