Glory be to God for dappled things, writes Oxford Jesuit, Gerard Manley Hopkins, breaking into verse that echoes St. Francis’ “Canticle to the Sun.” Physical creation proclaims God’s glory, reflects his simultaneous gentleness and might, and reminds us of his loving protection: All praise be yours, my Lord, through all that you have made.
But Francis was not the first in this devotional tradition, a new book reminds me. Celtic Devotion is its title—appropriately enough for its St. Patrick’s day arrival (…yes, liturgical celebrations were nudged to last Friday, but the parade is processing today). As the editor of this collection of daily prayers and hymns observes: “The Celts rarely separated the Christ of theology from the poetry of ‘Fairest Lord Jesus.’ He was in their praise, the ruler of all nature. [But] Christ doesn’t just lord over the natural world. He inhabits it. . . . He pervades the world so completely a butterfly may bear witness to the Incarnation, and a beetle may extol the crucifixion. All creation with a single voice celebrates the creator Christ.”
Of course, the father of Christian Ireland says it best. Anticipating Francis by eight centuries, Patrick won the Emerald Isle for Christ with his teaching of the Trinitarian God who is the source of light and life. As he taught Ethne, the fair, and Fedelm, the ruddy, pagan princesses of Connaught:
God, whom we announce to you, is the Ruler of all things.
The God of heaven and earth, of the sea and the rivers.
The God of the sun, and the moon, and all the stars.
The God of the high mountains and of the low-lying valleys.
The God who is above heaven, and in heaven, and under heaven.
His dwelling is in heaven and earth, and the sea, and all therein.
He gives breath to all.
He gives life to all.
He is over all.
He upholds all.
It’s a joyful vision of the world, yet it is also humbling. He is over all; He upholds all; we can do nothing without him. But there lies our hope: In recognizing our nothingness, we can be filled by his all. Sometimes, perhaps, prayer isn’t high theology but rather the continual offering of wandering feet and wandering thoughts to God. A simple lyric, from an eighth-century Celtic monk struggling in his meditation, captures this Christian paradox well:
Dear, chaste Christ,
Who can see into every heart and read every mind,
Take hold of my thoughts,
Bring my thoughts back to me,
And clasp me to yourself.