The God who numbers the hair on our heads is
interested in the details. Beautiful objects have care put into them. The artist who
undertakes to learn from Michelangelo may spend days just studying the hands of the Pieta'.
Equally in life, God as a craftsman, is concerned with the most minute moments of our
lives because, like great works of art, they have beauty in their details. Engaging craft
means paying attention to the way something is constructed; it means noticing the skillful
form it takes. When we spend time enjoying the craft of fiction and poetry, we are
mirroring a bit of God's own love of particulars. Andrew Rumsey, following Gerard Manly
Hopkins, the nineteenth-century Welsh poet and Jesuit, argues that God has designed human
beings to be attentive to creations details. When this watchfulness for particulars
results in poetry, the poem can be expected to have a resonance with the readers
experience because we as readers are also part of the details (51-61). We are, if you
will, creatures embedded in the particulars.
Hopkins, in his address to his order "The Principle of Foundation," stressed
the purpose and role of creation by focusing on three key concepts: "He [God] meant
the world to give him praise, reverence, and service; to give him glory. [. . .]
With praise, reverence, and service it should shew him his own glory" (228-229).
These three words are important to Hopkins because they show how we are to interact with
God's expression of himself in the world:
- Praise, according to Hopkins, is an act of the mind by which we understand the
importance of what we apprehend. We recognize God's glory for what it is.
- Reverence is an act of intuition and emotion, but more important, it is a certain stance
toward the world. We pay close and long attention to the world in order to see what God
has done there.
- Service implies an act of the will: we are called to respond according to what we
have seen--to teach others, to act differently, or to create works of art that embody the
inscape of God's world.
According to Hopkins, every object has an essence that can be perceived; this essence
points to God's design of it and the unified design of the creation. (Hopkins calls this
inscape.) God reveals the inscape of an object not only so that it may praise him, but
also so that it may be embodied in works of art, which are also acts of praise to God. In
"As Kingfishers Catch Fire, "Hopkins touches on this theme:
[. .. .] each hung bells
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each
Selvesgoes itself; myself it speaks
Crying What I do is me: for that I came. (3-8)
Hopkins can, thus, speak of Christ revealing himself to God the Father through the acts
of the world, including human beings:
Acts in Gods eye what in Gods eye he is--
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces. (12-14)
The writer Annie Dillard aptly named this process "stalking" the divine
(chapter 11 passim). Both Hopkins and Dillard understand that poetrys
attentiveness to the world about us is a theological attitude and calling.