On Kairos Time, Liturgical Cycles, Theophanies and Gerard Manley Hopkins

Happy Feast of the Epiphany and it's also the 12th day of Christmas. This coming Sunday, the Western Christian Churches celebrate the Baptism of Jesus.

I took down the Christmas celebrations today, always a bit of a sad day and a reality call !

My friend Sean remarked, that for some, the Christmas season doesn't end until Feb 2nd, the Feast of The Presentation Of The Child Jesus in The Temple. It could be a sign of my age that I can take a little more time and space to lag behind and stay with the "feltness" of the seasons. These past few years I've kept one small Christmas tree up all year round just to remind me that Christmas is every day if I let it ! 

Sometimes the seasonal cycle of the liturgy is a pure gift of grace that pulls me along, irrespective of where my own sense of location is. I read in a book somewhere that the liturgical cycle is like taking hold of a rope, and sensing as you do, that many others have their hands on the rope and are going to pull you. At other times it seems to be an unwelcome ring fence that constrains and restricts. I am not always in Advent mode or Pentecost mode at the "right time" and I'm comfortable with that - see archive post on the difference between Chronos v Kairos time.

I didn't start this year with any particular resolutions but maybe I have been revisited  today and given a gift of the word "Kairos" and I will try and resolve to pay more attention to it this coming year. For ultimately if my faith in the Resurrection of Christ is worth anything at all, it tells me that what is happening to us and our world is happening within the wider provenance and providence of God.

As it says below (from my inbox today) :- 

" Providence is the faith that nothing can prevent us from fulfilling the ultimate meaning of our existence. Providence does not mean a divine planning by which everything is predetermined, as is an efficient machine. Rather, Providence means that there is a creative and saving possibility implied in every situation, which cannot be destroyed by any event."

Meanwhile here's a nice extract below from Joan Chittister from The Liturgical Year. It's valuable as a redux for some of the events we have just strolled through these past few weeks, and a way of looking ahead to this very special Sunday - another theophany or revelation of God to the world. 

"There’s a popular folk tale about three blind men who walk around an elephant to determine what kind of beast this animal might be.  One takes hold of the elephant’s tail and says, “This creature is very like a rope.”  The second happens to take hold of its tusk and says, “This creature is very like a spear.”  And the third, patting the wide, hard side of the animal, says, “This creature is surely a wall.” 

 Obviously, if any one of them had all three insights at once, these men would have understood a great deal more about elephants than any one of them could possibly know alone.

Liturgical spirituality is a bit like that as well.  Each season has a great consuming centerpiece on which we concentrate — Christmas Day or the Resurrection — but it is being willing to walk thoughtfully through all the other parts of each particular cycle that gives us the fuller, truer picture of exactly what the feast itself is all about.

The Christmas season, or Christmastide, is not about one feast day.  It is a series of feasts that embed us in a kind of refracted glory, the underpinnings, the other pieces of the mosaic that complete the feast itself.

The feasts of a season create a heightened awareness in us of what the season’s major feast is about.  They help us to understand the feast from multiple perspectives and various layers of meaning.  Together they create a mosaic that fleshes out for us the fullest meaning of the feast.  They give us a way of looking at our own world differently because through them we come to see Jesus differently.  They provide the hope because of which we can move in the dark parts of the spiritual life with both confidence and conviction.

Christmas — the light that shone upon a manger — was also, the ancients knew, the light that led them on beyond it as well.  If God is truly with us, has been manifested among us, companions us as we go, knows our pains and our hopes, then life is not a dark forest from which there is no exit.  It is a darkness, however dark, that is always overcome by light.

But how would they know that?  How do we know that?  We know that because surrounding the feast of Christmas are the feasts that open up to us the real nature of this child whom, with the shepherds, we have come to realize lives with us, in us, as much today as yesterday.  These minor feasts of Christmastide give us a great deal more than a manger.  They give us, as adults, models to live by if we, too, are to be steeped in Jesus and full of new life.

The Feast of the Holy Family 
The Feast of the Holy Family depicts Jesus in a home where he grows in wisdom, age, and grace. (Luke 2:52)  It is a model of what we want for the children of our time.  It is a model of the kind of love and care that encourages children to grow up to be on their own but guides them as they do.
This feast causes us to pause and look at our own families, both the ones we grew up in and the ones we’re now developing ourselves.  It raises questions in us about the harmony of the home we’re in now — and what part we play in both its peace and its disturbance.  We are brought to wonder what wisdom, maturity, and virtue the children of our time are able to see in us that will transfer itself to them. 

 We must ask ourselves if we are learning from one another, caring for one another; becoming more spiritual together as we go.  And if not, why not?  And what do we intend to do about it, as Jesus did, for the sake of the rest of the world?

The Octave of Christmas: The Feast of Mary, the Mother of God 

Very few feasts have an octave, an eight-day commemoration of the feast, meant to give even more significance to the dignity and importance of the major celebration itself.  Like incense, an octave is the sweet memory, eight days later; of what has gone before.  It is the aura of a feast, so important, so impacting, that the power of its presence in the human soul lingers far after the feast itself. 

 If nothing else, it is an octave that says to the deepest part of us, Don’t overlook what you have just seen.  Think again.  Think about it always.

In that same way, this feast adds another layer to Christmas.  The Octave of Christmas, January 1, while we are still very much aware of the birth of Jesus, confronts us with the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.  But this feast is not the church’s answer to the annual Mother’s Day so common in the secular world; this feast is a statement about both Mary and Jesus.  She is human, we know, and therefore so is he.  This Jesus is no Greek god, no being from another planet, no fairy-tale divine.  This child, born of Mary, is us.  The Solemnity of Mary is a cataclysmic theology of both the compassion of God for human limitation and the potential of the human spirit to grow into the divine.

The second great feast of the Christmas season that amplifies our awareness of the person of Jesus is the Western church’s separate celebration of the ancient Eastern feast of the Epiphany.  While the Eastern church concentrates on the baptism of Jesus as the divine revelation of the Holy Trinity, the Western church continues to maintain the story of the Magi.  These foreign kings, themselves altered by strange manifestations of the stars in the heavens, like the shepherds, find their way to the child and, the scriptures say, “to pay him homage.” (Matthew 2:2)  The world recognizes the heavenly in this tiny child.  And the child recognizes the people of God in them.  This is not a Christian child only; this child belongs to the world.

The Baptism of Jesus

On the Sunday after Epiphany, the Christmas season ends in the West with its own celebration of the baptism of Jesus by John at the Jordan.  As the Eastern church points out, it is at this moment that we see for the first time the union of God the Creator, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  But we see something else as well.  We see Jesus accepting baptism by John, a sign that Jesus accepts humanity, His own and ours, in all of its struggles, all of its limitations, all of its burdens, and all its focus on the ultimate, on the divine.

The feast days of Christmastide make the full meaning of Christmas clear.  There can be no doubt about it: this child is human, yes, but he is of heavenly as well as earthly origin.  In this child’s light we all walk safely through the unknown.  We are all here with the Magi, full of gifts to give in his behalf.  

What’s more, with the opening of the heavens on the bank of the Jordan, we all have our first vision of life beyond life.

Christmas is larger than a baby in a manger.  Christmas is the coming of a whole new world.  More than that, it is what makes that world possible."

Thanks also to Marilyn Santos for her beautiful image on her FB page for today, on the 12th day of Christmas, to which Google has added a little extra "twinklement."

"My true love gave to me...Twelve Drummers Drumming.. 

Marilyn relates that the song points to the twelve points in the Apostles' Creed: 
1) I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. 2) I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. 3) He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. 4) He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell [the grave]. 5) On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. 6) He will come again to judge the living and the dead. 7) I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, 9) the communion of saints, 10) the forgiveness of sins, 11) the resurrection of the body, 12) and life everlasting.

I'll leave you with some gifts from Gerard Manley Hopkins.

I read Hopkin's poetry in my teens, and was entranced by his innovative use of language and rhythm, even if I didn't grasp the meaning of it all.
But in later years, I have come to appreciate his exquisite sixth sense of being able to write from the heart, to portray the emotional "ups and downs of the joys and anguish of faith, along with the intensity of his questioning search for God's presence and I can see how his writing is immersed in Ignatian spirituality.

His poem, "I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day," is one that many can relate to at some point in life.

But his magnificent poem, "God's Grandeur," is perfect for theophanies: the Incarnational events before and at Christmas, at the Epiphany or at the Baptism of Jesus, or the Transfiguration, and then at Easter, and the post Resurrection appearances, at Pentecost and the Ascension into Heaven.

This is a beautiful reading of the poem by Stanley Kunitz,
who died in 2006 at the grand age of 101. He was Poet Laureate in the USA.
 Here's an extract from the video...

"Back in 1926, I was roaming through the stacks of the Widener Library at Harvard. When I was walking through the section on English poetry of the nineteenth century, I just at random lifted my arm and picked a book off the shelf. It was attributed to an author I was not familiar with—Gerard Manley Hopkins. The page that I turned to and began to read was a page devoted to a poem called ‘God’s Grandeur.’ 

I couldn’t believe what I was reading. It really shook me, because it was unlike anything else I had ever read before. 

Suddenly that whole book became alive to me. It was filled with such a lyric passion; it was so fierce and eloquent, wounded and yet radiant, that I knew that it was speaking directly to me and giving me a hint of the kind of poetry that I would be dedicated to for the rest of my life.”

  I also love this post from one of my favourite singers Andrew Peterson, who describes how he found the poem, and how he was moved to tears by the video below.

A few posts back I mentioned a book by Janet Morley titled "Haphazard by Starlight," which featured a poem a day from Advent to Epiphany. Hopkin's poem "God's Grandeur, " is also the final entry in her book.

Here's the complete poem. 

The 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 the warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

I included Hopkin's poem in this post in 2010, in late Advent
which just goes to reinforce what I was saying earlier about my not always being in perfect synchronous time with the season !

 Here's a short edited extract from Janet Morley's commentary on it.
Morley does not link the poem to the events of the baptism of Jesus, but I think it is a very appropriate one for this coming Sunday's feast, where the triune origin of our God is brought together beautifully in the Gospel 

" The last six lines of the poem set a new direction and the poem recovers the exultant tone of its confident beginning: in spite of human exploitation and indifference, " nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things." This is a beautiful assertion of the integrity of the natural world, and its capacity for endlessly returning to the freshness of the moment of creation, since the grandeur of the creator inhabits every particle of it like a charge. Pointing out the pattern of day and night, sunset and new dawning are a constant cycle around the globe, the poem builds towards the line that recalls the moment of creation when as Genesis puts it, the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters before things were brought into being. 

Many have observed that this description recalls the brooding of a bird that is hatching new life and the Holy Spirit is often depicted as a dove. Hopkin's "warm breast" and "ah bright wings" give concreteness and intimacy to this image. It may also recall the cry of Jesus as He contemplates the city of Jerusalem where he will die, and which will itself soon be destroyed by the Romans: " How often would I have gathered your chidren together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not !" (Luke 13:34.)

......The Holy Spirit plays a crucial part in the conception of Jesus so here we have brought together the act of creation, the event of The Incarnation and the memory of Jesus death and the redemption of the world in one short celebratory poem. 

That world remains bent and smudged by generations of the sins of humanity, but it is deep down still fresh and radiant with the unquenchable glory of God, made manifest to those with eyes to see."

Today, I also was lucky to discover a rare documentary video on Gerard Manley Hopkins on You Tube. 

It's in six parts so I decided to include them all in this post, plus a short summary of his life.

 Gerard Manley Hopkins (28 July 1844 -- 8 June 1889) was an English poet, Roman Catholic convert, and Jesuit priest, whose posthumous fame established him as one of the Victorian era's greatest poets. 
Born at Stratford, Essex, England (Now Newham, East London), on July 28, 1844. He was raised in a prosperous and artistic family. He attended Balliol College, Oxford, in 1863, where he studied Classics.

In 1864, Hopkins first read John Henry Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua, which was a  defence of the author's reasons for converting to Catholicism. 

Two years later, Newman himself received Hopkins into the Roman Catholic Church. Hopkins decided to become a priest himself, and in 1867 he entered a Jesuit novitiate near London. At that time, he vowed to "write no more...unless it were by the wish of my superiors." Hopkins burnt all of the poetry he had written to date and would not write poems again until 1875. He spent nine years in training at various Jesuit houses throughout England. He was ordained in 1877 and for the next seven years carried his duties teaching and preaching in London, Oxford, Liverpool, Glasgow, and Stonyhurst.

In 1875, Hopkins began to write again after a German ship, the Deutschland, was wrecked during a storm at the mouth of the Thames River. Many of the passengers, including five Franciscan nuns, died. Hopkins poem "The Wreck of the Deutschland" He introduced the term "sprung rhythm."  

In 1884, he became a professor of Classics at University College in Dublin. 
Hopkins writing desk
Newman House, Dublin -Source

Hopkins' experienced some dark nights of the soul in these years but his intense emotional and spiritual suffering produced some of his finest poetry.
He died five years later from typhoid fever and his poems were never published during his lifetime, but his friend poet Robert Bridges edited a volume of Hopkin's poems that first appeared in 1918.

In addition to developing new rhythmic effects, Hopkins was also very interested in ways of rejuvenating poetic language. He regularly placed familiar words into new and surprising contexts and in unusual word combinations. As he wrote to in a letter to Burns, "No doubt, my poetry errs on the side of oddness..."

Hopkin's  memorial plaque outside the public library in The Grove, Stratford, London.Source

The inscription reads:
Loathed for a love men knew in them
Banned by the land of their birth,
Rhine refused them. Thames would ruin them,
Surf, snow, river and earth
Gnashed: but thou art above, thou Orion of light.
from: Stanza 21 'The Wreck of the Deutschland'".'

I haven't watched all of these myself yet, but the opening scenes of the first video were spot on for the type of bleak weather we have been experiencing here in Cornwall and the rest of the UK these past few weeks !

and this quotation from Hopkins poem "Inversnaid," evoked a wry smile too !!

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Related links

Poetry Foundation on Gerard Manley Hopkins

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