The grandeur of God

My Macquarie (Australian) Dictionary doesn’t have the word ‘reck’, although it has ‘reckless’. The general secretary’s Concise Oxford Dictionary does have it though. I understand that it’s actually both a noun and a verb. The verb being “to care, take heed of”.

Every year there are many reflections about Christmas, most of which rue the commercialisation of it all. But for me, at this time of the year, I often find myself pondering on what to attend to and what to ignore.

Joseph Wood Krutch wrote in his book The Desert Year: “In nature, one never really sees a thing for the first time until one has seen it for the fiftieth.”

Can we apply this to the season of Advent I wonder?

I’ve clocked up more than 50 Christmases but I’m sure that I can’t claim 50 seasons in preparation for Advent, where we reck (pay heed to) our hope and expectation in the coming of Christ.

“The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” says Gerard Manley Hopkins, “yet generations have trod, have trod, have trod.”  If you can put up with all the gender specificity of another line of the same poem: “Why do men then now not reck his rod?”

Out where we live, there’s lots of plant growth in the lead up to Christmas. From mid-November to mid-January growth tails off and grasses go to seed. There is much mowing and slashing to be done in preparation for the bushfire season.

We have a couple of motor-mowers. Both are the walk-behind [tread, tread, tread] variety. One is clutch driven so it pulls me along behind it – I use this for the bigger jobs. The other is the common variety where I do the pushing. Up until this year, I’ve always managed to keep things in check. But this year is proving difficult as I’m experiencing a dearth of weekends.

The other day the temperature was around 30 degrees and I tossed up whether to sit down and write this reflection in the cool or get outside and do some overdue mowing. I chose procrastination in the form of the latter, which involves slipping on a set of noise-protection headphones under my hat.

As I said, it was quite a warm day and after a while I found myself pausing in the shade of one of our few non-native trees just for a few seconds before pushing out again into the hot sun. Perhaps this is a blokey thing but mowing and occasionally pausing, replete with sound deadening headphones, helps me to become present to a reality entirely separate from what can sometimes be a world of turmoil. It strangely sets me free.

I managed to get the job done after a few hours and found that I was too tired to write the reflection. The next day I went to work at the synod office and began the day by attending a brief chapel service wherein Rev Deacon Andy Calder played a CD of a fairly well known piece, Ombra mai fu from the opera Serse by Handel. On this occasion, he gave us a translation of the title of the song which means never was a shade.

The song is about the love of the shade of a plane tree that always remains peaceful and never bothered by thunder, lightning and storms. I instantly harked back to the previous afternoon and the shade that relieved me of my discomfort (shades of Jonah?).

As I sat in the chapel, with a fair bit on my mind, I listened to this familiar piece with a new found understanding of the words and had a ‘surely the Lord is (and was, and will be) in this place’ experience. My lungs filled with air and with hope, and my mind ‘recked’ with a heightened awareness of the mystery at work in my life.

Dan Wootton


God’s Grandeur

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 warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

— Gerard Manly Hopkins

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One Response to “The grandeur of God”

  1. apuleius

    “If you can put up with all the gender specificity of another line of the same poem…”

    There is no “gender specificity” – Hopkins is using a standard pre-WWII reference that allows the poetry to scan properly. The only thing to put up with is the intolerance of those who deny history and regard their own conventions as the only valid mode of expression in English.