On "As kingfishers catch fire"

This is the final post in a three-part series. Read Parts 1 and 2 here and here.

Today I’d like to return to that question I asked in the first post of this series: “What is man that you are mindful of him,/ and the son of man that you care for him?”  

We’ve already seen part of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ answer to that question in “Pied Beauty”—we are each of us “dappled things” who nevertheless have ingrained in us some of the beauty of our God. But Hopkins has even more to say about the matter:  


As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;                                 As tumbled over rim in roundy wells                                             Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's                   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 one dwells;                                 Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,                           Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;                                                 Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;                                Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is —                                   Chríst — 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.


Here again we see that wonderful imagery Hopkins is wont to use. Imagine the fiery blues and oranges of a kingfisher’s downy feathers or the sparkling wings and iridescent body of a dragonfly, catching the light like a flame. Hear the ring of a stone tossed against the wall of a “roundy well” and the clear peal of a bell as it “[flings] out broad its name.” In bell-like rhythms, Hopkins tells how “each mortal thing” seems to identify itself and its purpose solely as that which it does—stones ring, bells peal, “kingfishers catch fire.”  

Think about what this looks like in our lives—we do have a tendency as human beings to think that way about ourselves. We tend to introduce ourselves as what we do: “I manage the website for a nonprofit” or “I teach high-school literature” or “I work at a bank.” As Hopkins puts it, we all have a tendency to think, “What I do is me: for that I came,” and he allows that there is some truth to that. We are here to be web-managers and teachers and accountants.

But Hopkins knows there is more to it: “I say more: the just man justices;/ Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;/ Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—/ Christ—for Christ plays in ten thousand places…”  That means that when we do the will of our Father, whenever we glorify the Lord through our lives, we are Christ. We continue to live out what began when, according to the Gospel of John, “The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory…full of grace and truth.” Christ remains incarnate among us today in each other, and he is what makes us greater than solely what we do.

“Christ plays in ten thousand places.” When the Father looks at us, he sees his Son and he loves us as he loves Jesus. Christ plays in each of us—plays in the classroom, plays in the senior home, plays in you, in your mother and father, in your sister or brother, in the prisoner and the student and the businessman. When God looks into our eyes, he sees Christ; and we are lovely to the Father because of it. Let us remember that as we go about our days:  Wherever we go, we take Christ with us; whatever we do, let it be to glorify him; and whomever we encounter, let us see Christ in them too. For “Christ plays in ten thousand places.”


Helen DeCelles-Zwerneman is Operations Manager, Web Master, and Artistic Director for Cana Academy.  

Header image of a blue-ear kingfisher by McKay Savage. Used under license CC BY 2.0.