Maybe it was a sharp word spoken in frustration, maybe it was the dozen times I had to remind myself to focus on the dinner conversation, or maybe it was the muscles in my legs crying out as I climbed the stairs. Maybe it was the combination of all those things, and the flurry of obligations to come, that drove home this realization: I am tired.
Maybe you are, too.
The kind of tired I feel trends toward desperation at times. It’s like walking in a labyrinth, its winding passages looping one on another; I make a turn thinking I’ll find my way out, but instead come face to face with a dead end. And so my weariness mingles with a loss of hope.
How then do I minister to my family? How do I encourage my wife and my sons to create—more, to seek God—when I’m too tired to think? When my hope is strained?
I found an answer to these questions on one of my bookmarks.
A while ago I photocopied a page of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poems with the intention of memorizing a couple. I put one in particular to heart, but, as way leads on to way, I have forgotten a few lines. I kept this page in my journal, and although I held the poem in my hands often, its impact faded. Most times I gave it no thought at all.
However, just when I stumbled into the desperate place described above, the first line of the poem flashed in my mind. It is titled “Pied Beauty,” and the opening line reads:
“Glory be to God for dappled things—”
Flashed is an apt descriptor, for those words were light cracking through a troubled sky. And truth be told I needed only part of that line to be roused, to be awakened from my brain fog: “Glory be to God…” How those four words sang to me—and how they sing to me now as I write them!
That phrase is the first bookend of the poem; the final two words, “Praise him,” are the second bookend, supporting the content between to maintain a posture of worship. How wonderful to regain this posture, to recall how our God is to be praised!
We could end here. The opening and closing of “Pied Beauty” has brought us to our knees—what more is there? Oh, but the calendar whispers to us, and our work won’t be done unless we move on. Shall we stop with bookends? Shall we rise in the morning and praise him, and later collapse into our beds, uttering a prayer just before sleep takes us?
The exhaustion hangs on, too, as do all the undone tasks, and worship slips the mind even when we’re not this worn out. And so, come deeper into “Pied Beauty,” where we may find a way to keep our Lord before us.
Glory be to God for dappled things – For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough; And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim. All things counter, original, spare, strange; Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him.
Hopkins points to “skies of couple-colour,” to spots on trout, “fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls,” and the wings of finches. Then he turns our eyes to the fields and their variations—and the different tools of the trades, “their gear and tackle and trim.”
To great effect, Hopkins’s choices are as pied as the individual things themselves: from sky to stream, to the fields and equipment shed. Put your head on a swivel, he seems to say, for there is no place to look, there is nothing you might see, that should not evoke our praise for their Creator. It’s as though he’d been meditating on Psalm 148 and then stepped outside, the lines on his tongue:
“Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, small creatures and flying birds...” (v 7-10)
Both the Psalm and the poem remind us of God’s wonders, of how fitting it is to praise him—and more—they prime our hearts to see these things, especially in times of weariness.
No longer listing specific things, Hopkins goes on in the second and final stanza with the idea that God’s wonders are everywhere: “All things counter…” and “Whatever is fickle, freckled…” (italics mine). However, it’s the last two lines that I hope stick with you as they have me:
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him.
And yes, those last two words—our second bookend—comprise the whole of the last line, with the spacing exactly as formatted above. What a typographical statement! We are, once again, led to praise. How wonderful to remember that no matter our circumstances, no matter our weaknesses, and no matter how full the calendar, our Father is beautiful beyond change—for difficulties do come, and we are weak, and tasks are unending.
Yet he is with us, and he is beautiful.
I leave you with one final verse from Psalm 148:
“Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.”
So simple: “he commanded…they were created.” My weary eyes are glad in this simplicity. To look nearby and know my Father’s been at work—and is at work—this is how my hope is reestablished and my body is prepared to encounter what God has created.
Rejoice today, even in your exhaustion—and may we all have ears that hear and eyes that see God’s handiwork: maybe the sudden flight of sparrows, maybe the minute sound of soapsuds, or maybe rows of socks that actually match; maybe…
Trout photo by wirestock