Monday, May 07, 2012

Column: A dayspring to our dimness

I wrote a bit about this video here, the photo is from an early summer walk at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville.

This column appeared in the May 2012 issue of the Catholic Standard & Times.

Let your every creature serve you; for you spoke, and they were made. You sent forth your spirit, and they were created; no one can resist your word. — Judith 16:14

 “Happy 17th day of Eastertide!” began the e-mail from my friend, Father Bill Sneck, S.J. He enclosed the link to a short video with the note, “You’ll want to replay it.” Father Sneck, a spiritual director at the Jesuit Center in nearby Wernersville, often has good advice for me about contemplation, and this was no exception. I watched it a half dozen times.

Set to the music of briskly bowing violins, the time-lapse video shows a virtual bouquet of flowers blooming. Pansies wriggle their way up, opening their faces, finishing with a graceful bow. A flock of vibrantly orange marigolds push free from their buds and a bright yellow hibiscus shakes out into its full shimmering glory.

Each time I watch it I am struck anew by the strength that these fragile blossoms exude. I can almost feel God’s hands on the plants, His face close, insistently breathing them into bloom. They respond with vigorous delight.

Watching the clip, I couldn’t help but think of this snippet from the Canticle of Judith recited just once in the four-week cycle of the Liturgy of the Hours: no one can resist your word. Judith sings forcefully of what God has wrought in Israel’s entirely unexpected victory over Assyrian general Holofernes, of the salvation that could not fail.

Each time I pray that canticle, I think of the unimaginable, irresistible strength that God’s voice carries. It insists on working within me, hoping that I will respond with vigor and delight.

At the very end of his epic poem, The Wreck of the Deutschland, poet Gerard Manley Hopkins hopes that we might let Christ “easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us…” Hopkins’ use of easter as a verb evokes for me the same images of insistent strength as Judith’s song, as the swift and sure kindling of the flowers. Easter becomes not a historical moment, or a liturgical season, but what is growing strongly here and now in our souls. We cannot resist this Life, this Word that was, is and will forever be.

The trees here are now clothed in green; tulips and daffodils have spent themselves and we await the rich glories of summer’s roses. The first flush of Easter is past as well. Where after Lent’s parched days we drank deeply of alleluias in churches resplendent with white and gold, we no longer thirst quite so desperately. The joyful music still sounds, but it no longer startles us, we are well settled again into the celebration of the Resurrection, reborn from the ashes of Lent. The eastering in us may be almost imperceptible; a slowly unfolding reality, but it is an irresistible reality nonetheless.

God breathes His Word in me, as well as all of creation. If I could but see myself on God’s time scale, would I rise up swiftly from the dust, push free from what binds me, shake into fullness and bend my face low in homage?

Fragile as I might be, I can no more resist the Word than the flowers. His command breathes strength into my soul, a dayspring to my dimness, an insistent call to bloom and bear Easter’s fruit.

O God, you graft us on to Christ, the true vine, and, with tireless care, you nurture our growth in knowledge and reverence. Tend the vineyard of your Church, that in Christ each branch may bring forth to the glory of your name abundant fruits of faith and love. Amen.
— From a collect for the Fifth Sunday of Easter


  1. And did you know -- as I learned in a Wernersville homily a few weeks ago -- that "easter" as Hopkins uses it in this poem is also a nautical term, meaning to steer one's boat toward the east, toward the light?

    I've looked at the flower video many times as well.

  2. I didn't know that...despite my nautical tendencies!

  3. Thank you for this today.

  4. Can't tell you (once again) how timely and wonderful your sharing is in my life!

    Thank you!

  5. Julianne11:25 AM

    I love the image of us not being able to resist God's breath. And of easter being about steering towards the light.

  6. Michelle, your posts have been a constant and deeply lovely source of joy and insight to me. I've been a "lurker" for years now, having learned of you through Robin. This is magnificent. Thank you. Rosa

  7. Rosa, thank you! I'm glad that this spoke to you, too...