Grandeur of Dappled Things

August 9, 2009
Jodie Boyer Hatlem and Doug Johnson Hatlem

(Gerard Manley Hopkins)

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 all trades, 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.

(Gerard Manley Hopkins) 

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 soilIs 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.

Scripture: Romans 8:18-28 


[The two poems above were read together, at the same time, with the exception of certain lines which were said individually – Lines 1, 10, and 11 in “Pied Beauty” and  lines 1, 7c, 8, 13, and 14 in “God’s Grandeur]  

Doug: The revelation of the children of God.

Jodie:  Last Autumn Simeon and Johanna were collecting Fall leaves and they kept bringing them to me.

Doug: Look, look, look.  Look at this one.  Isn’t it beautiful Momma?

Jodie:  It was my job to heap praise on their selection:  “Oh look that one’s sooo orange, or sooo red, or look at all those colours!”  Easy enough?

The thing is that Sim’s leaves were not striking me as particularly beautiful.  Indeed, he seemed to have a particular talent to find the most bug ridden, brown, tattered leaf to bring to me.  Weary of making up praise I finally asked him: why do you think this leaf is beautiful? 

Doug: because it makes such a lovely crunchy sound and when I hold it up to the sky I can see the sunlight through it.   

Jodie: Okay, cute children’s story over!

Doug:(every preacher absolutely requires a cute kid, a Bible, and a good set of commentaries)

Jodie: And hopefully a newspaper subscription-for that bible in one hand/newspaper in the other preaching.

Doug:  In any given leaf pile we might see—the Grandeur of God, a myriad of dappled things, and also some broken things.  And, yet there is a sense in which none of these things are accidents. 

Jodie: The Biblical understanding creation is not accidental, it is a direct an act of God’s will.

Doug: Particularly in the Psalms, the Hebrew word bara is used to connote “divine bringing forth.”  

Jodie: In the Genesis account God is involved in both bara (creating)

Doug: and asah (making.)  

Jodie: The verb bara refers to the creation of the world as a whole and is only used with respect to God. 

Doug: The making, asah, describes God’s crafting and ordering of the world.  These divine works do find an analogy in the works of humans.   Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote the poems we just read in dueling fashion in the context of the industrial revolution in England and what was certainly an unprecedented stripping and destruction of nature.

Jodie: Yet, he maintained hope in God’s continued and ACTIVE presence in the world.

Doug: This affirmation of the active presence of God in the world was made in the face of a confident religion of material progress that built upon distinguishing God from creation.  Hopkins evokes this ruthless conquest and exploitation of nature in “God’s Grandeur”:

Jodie: Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;Doug:And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;  And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soilIs bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. 

Jodie: This exploitation was religiously legitimated in part by texts like Romans passage we read that speak about the whole earths bondage to sin

Doug:  It’s separation from God!

Jodie: In such a context, the notion that creation might or even needs to be redeemed could be used as a justification for civilizing creation.  To such a position Hopkins sings: 

Doug: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” 

Jodie:  This is a passionate affirmation of God’s presence in a creation, even in a creation that has been rent to bare, that has been trod upon, smeared, and bleared.  Yet, despite this—and because of Holy Spirit
bending over the world like a Mother bird—“there lives the dearest freshness deep down things.“

Doug: As Hopkins says immediately after the part regarding industry and our alienation from the wild, “For all this nature is not spent.”

Jodie: It will not just wither up and die altogether. 

Doug: Nature will adapt, change, reconstitute herself. “It gathers to a greatness!”

Jodie: and continually, again to Spring

Darren Kropf reminded us last fall that what Christians have to give to the environmental movement is hope rather than guilt.

Doug: The poems  of Gerard Manley Hopkins are filled with just that kind of hope. 

Jodie: Our sermon series this summer is “ALL GOD”S CREATION”  All seems like a good modifier for creation. Many times when we speak theologically of creation we neglect to mention dappled things.  We use adjectives like:

Doug: order,

Jodie: majesty,

Doug: grandeur.

Jodie: In “Pied Beauty,” Hopkins hymn to dappled things that I read, the continued presence of the creative power of God is what gives rise to the stunning multiplicity of things.

Doug: Hopkins point in “Pied Beauty” is that:

Although God is beyond change God is responsible for bringing forth the world’s multiplicity.  

Jodie: Some of the dappled things that he describes are lovely: 

trout with their “rose mole”

Doug: the sky that can look like a brinded cow

Jodie: The Finch’s Wing

Doug: We can think of a multitude of others the leopard’s spots, or the Zebras stripes, the speckled eggs of a Robin, a pond covered with lily pads, the subtle colouring of a female mallard or red-wing blackbird.

Yet, we are given a clue that all the dappled things might not be strictly speaking lovely. Many might look like Simeon’s leaves. 

Jodie: Things that are: Counter

Doug: Strange

Jodie: Fickle

Doug: Slow

Jodie: Dim

Doug: Sour

Jodie: Decay

Doug: We might safely say that the dappled things could also include crushed flowers, mangy dogs, thorns and matted cats, and you and I.

Jodie: Warted and freckled and wrinkled and scarred. 

Doug: We were drawn to this Romans passage because of the way it invites one into a grand narrative.  A narrative that is open to grandeur, and dapple and profound brokenness. 

Jodie: A story that begins with a creation that wasn’t always subjected to futility, wasn’t always bound to decay, WASN’T ALWAYS A PLACE where might makes right and the powerful inherited the world.  Nor was it always red tooth and claw.

Doug: At the center of the Christian hope is the knowledge that while the Survival of the Fittest might be a good describer of nature – pain, and death, and destruction do not lie at the innermost meaning of creation.

Jodie: This passage, along with Isaiah’s description of a peaceable kingdom where the child plays with the adder, reminds us that nature is not, strictly speaking, natural. Moreover the passage reminds us that nature has a distinct trajectory–  It is heading for redemption. 

Doug: Jessica, a good friend of Jodie’s, recently worked and lived for several years for A Rocha on an environmental farm and reserve outside Vancouver. 

Jodie: A Rocha’s slogan is Christians in Conservation ( 

Doug: A Rocha began as a field study centre in Portugal and now operates in just under twenty countries around the world including India, Peru, Bulgaria, and, soon, Uganda.  Jessica has stayed with us at Junia House on and off over this spring and summer and introduced us to Colin, an A Rocha friend of hers from the UK.  Colin, a lifelong Catholic, tipped his head back and chuckled as he told us how many church people have reacted to him with something like

Jodie: “Christians in conservation?  Why? Isn’t it all just going to burn up soon anyway?”

Doug: Colin was, of course, describing the kinds of Christians that welcome war and turn their noses up at environmentalism because Jesus is coming back,

Jodie: God speed the day!

Doug: While this kind of pie in the sky humdrum is not a danger for a church such as ours, there are others.  We might, for instance, be tempted to ignore the apocalyptic bits of the Bible altogether.  But why should we leave all the good stuff like evangelism and resistance-to-empire to warmongering capitalists? 


Jodie: Paul’s theological reasoning in Romans chapter eight is often ripped from its context and used as piecemeal prooftext for either conservatives or liberals.  Conservatives love to cite its description of not just humans, but the whole world as fallen and suffering under the sway of sin. 

Doug: Liberals tend to hurry past anything unpleasant to something like “look, look creation itself will be set free from bondage – the apostle Paul, the founding member of Green Peace!” 

Jodie: Maybe, maybe!  It’s not just a joke.  Paul does insist that the good news of the gospel will liberate the world.  But in getting there, he twice uses a variant on the greek word apocalupto, and the entire discussion is framed in terms of his understanding of

Doug: [beginning to get increasingly animated!!]  suffering and glory, sin and redemption, subjection and adoption, bondage and liberty, flesh and spirit, the law of God, the law of sin, and the will ….  

Jodie [cutting Doug off]: And while there are two of us talking, we’ll avoid the temptation to give a forty minute lecture, diagramming how all these things work for Paul 

Doug: Thoug
h in our view, that certainly wouldn’t be boring! 

Jodie: hmmph

Doug: Paul’s use of the word apocalupto in verses eighteen and nineteen is often translated as “revealing.”  When you come across the word reveal in your English Bible, you should watch out. 

Jodie: It’s probably doing a lot more work then peekaboo, look! Look!, Surprise. 

Doug: The archer has released the arrow, the wedding veil is being thrown back, the show begins, the world is turning.   Verse 18 and 19 again then:

Jodie: “the sufferings of this present time,”

Doug: this kairos moment,

Jodie: “are not worth comparing with the splendor which soon will be apocalypsed to us. 

Both: For the creation waits, eagerly, longingly, for the apocalypsing of the children of God.”  

Doug: While Paul and Gerard Manley Hopkins approach things quite differently, they are fundamentally convinced of something profound.  Nature and apocalypse are not enemies. 

Jodie: Apocalypse does not nullify Nature. 

Doug: Nature, for Hopkins, “will flame out like shining from shook foil …”

Jodie: … revelation!  And AH! BRIGHT WINGS!  Holy Ghost over the bent world broods: she is over the rose moles all in stipple… and finches wings…. and in the sky of couple-colour.

Doug: That’s Hopkins. For Paul, creation labours, struggling to birth to something far too big.  It cannot remain within any longer.  But however shall it come out?  Paul does not know. It is far too glorious.  But there are hints, sneak-a-peeks, foretastes of the firstfruits of the wonders of the Spirit’s redeeming adoption. 

Jodie: There is the flesh and there is the promise. 

Doug: And the promise for all flesh. 

Jodie:  Look!

Doug: Look!

Jodie: Nature will not be destroyed in Paul’s apocalyptic thought; it will be liberated.  

Doug: When the scroll is unrolled, when the Spirit bears witness with our spirit,

Jodie: when the first fruits have become a great harvest,

Doug: when the scales have fallen from our eyes and all God’s children are seen as all God’s children,  all things will then work together for good.

Jodie: The bent things

Doug: and the dappled things,

Jodie: the strange things

Doug: and the groaning things.   

Jodie: The grand things, and the spare things, and the sweet, sour, adazzle dim things.

Doug: But, this is not restoration, ALL creation is not going to be restored to its primal goodness and order 

Jodie: it is liberation

Doug:  This cannot be likened to tidying a room, restoring a house, cleaning a slate….

Jodie: it is RE-Creation.  And surprise, we are being brought into the mystery of God’s creation and begetting

Doug: creation as bara, not just God’s making:

Jodie: The labour pains are upon us 

Doug: Behold all things are being made new.  And this is the hope that urges us forward in our work to heal, order, care for, and simply wonder at creation in all its infinite variety. 

Jodie: In part creation cannot just be restored to some pre-fall, pre-industrial goodness precisely because of the dappled things.  Because from that primal, orginary moment (however you conceive it) all creation has been incredibly divisive and recombinant. Things have separated and divided only to join.  Two becomes four becomes 16

Doug: and two again.  But a different kind of two.

Jodie: We carry in the blue prints of our bodies the marks of being the one possibility of infinite others.  Creation knows no bounds.  It is lighting out.  It is building toward a crescendo.

Doug: Yet, in the midst of these dappled things there is groaning.  And when we think of groaning in the light of the multiplicity of creation and in the light of this creation’s redemption we are pressed to understand brokenness as also … divine potency! 

Jodie:  In divinity school, I worked for about a year as a chaplain’s intern at the state facility for the developmentally disabled.  During the same time, I was taking a course in theological medical ethics where we were often pressed to answer questions such as  What will happen to the disabled in the new creation?  Those with down syndrome?  Those with autism?  The deaf?  Will the blind see?  It was a tricky question.  Are people with down syndrome sick?  Do the deaf want to speak?  As many of you may know, that’s a loaded question in the deaf community.  What about the special charisms of the disabled?  The profound gifts they give to their communities and the church?  During my time at the state facility I was working with people that were able to do so little.  One woman in particular could say only a few phrases.  One being: “Get me coffee, bitch!” The woman, in her 60s at the time, had been left at the state facility when she was three.  And during that time, during the worst days of custodial institutions… She suffered not only abuse, But, also boredom and loneliness. If you sat by her she would always immediately take your hand, softly.  After a few months there, I was told that she had shared a room with another lady and for nearly 30 years had constantly held hands with the other woman she lived with. A woman, of course, also developmentally challenged.

I hope that woman will be able to walk and speak and dance, in the new heaven and the new earth.  But, certainly, I hope that the tremendous faithfulness, the Sisyphian faithfulness, that can allow one person to comfort another for 30 years straight will not be destroyed.

Doug: Even in the midst of crackling fragility we see light:

Jodie: The World is charged with the Grandeur of God.

Doug: GLORY be to God for dappled things.