Sunday September 22, 2019
10:44 pm
Bishop Hying

Through pursuit and our ultimate surrender, we find joy, peace and fulfillment in the arms of God

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on August 12, 2018

 

      One of my favorite poems is the “Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson, in which the poet experiences God as a hugely powerful dog who resolutely chases him down the pathways of his life.  Despite every attempt to escape, hide or elude the mighty hound, Thompson cannot do so, ultimately surrendering to being caught, only to find that this creature, which he mightily feared, is actually his very salvation.  

      The poet speaks profoundly of his own difficult experience. Thompson was born in London in 1859, entered medical school at the behest of his father, but eventually dropped out of his studies and left home.  Living on the streets for years, taking odd jobs, scribbling out poetry, sleeping in doorways or by the Thames, he became an opium addict and contemplated suicide in the depths of his despair. Eventually, he was saved by the kindness of a prostitute and his writings were discovered by a married couple in the publishing business.

      I appreciate the “Hound of Heaven” for it poignantly captures the human desire to run from God, other people and ourselves. In my priestly ministry, I have discovered that most people profoundly struggle to accept themselves as loveable and good. How can God truly love me?  If other people really knew me, would they love me?  

      This self-doubt, often even leading to self-loathing, makes us run away in shame from the very relationships which can save, heal and bless us. We live in a nihilistic culture which often seeks to escape responsibility, relationship, commitment, work, self-knowledge and God. We can search for meaning or simply relief in drugs, sex, money, popularity, materialism or cynicism. Like Francis Thompson, Augustine, Mary Magdalene, Francis of Assisi or Adam and Eve, we can run away from God, seeking some dark, hiding place where we hope never to be found, even though deep down, we want to be found.  

      Here is the beginning of the poem:

      “I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him down the arches of the years; I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind and in the mist of tears I hid from Him and under running laughter up vistaed hopes I sped; and shot, precipitated, adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears, from those strong Feet that followed, followed after…”

      The good and challenging news of our faith is that God never gives up on us; he is always seeking us out, patiently offering graced opportunity to surrender into Love. Like a relentless hound, God pursues us because Love cannot bear to see any child of the Father perish in hopelessness and despair. We are made for relationship, to love and be loved, yet we often fear and dread the very thing that will restore and renew us.  

      God looks for Adam and Eve after they have hidden themselves in the shame of sin; the Lord liberates the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, even when they had given up all hope; Jesus comes in human flesh to invite us into a living relationship with the Trinity. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the merciful Father scans the horizon for a sign of his son’s awaited return. Love does not quietly sit at home when a chance to discover the lost one wandering outside is possible. The Song of Songs speaks powerfully of this impulse of Love to never rest until the Beloved is found.

      In what ways do we run away from God?  Where do we hide ourselves from the Hound of Heaven?  And more significantly, why do we do so? Why do we simultaneously desire and fear the intimacy of relationship?  

      To let ourselves be found and loved by God and others demands a surrender and vulnerability which will strip us of all defenses; it will challenge us to find ourselves to be fundamentally loveable and good.  How human it is to be at least a little frightened of this transparency. But, when we examine the lives and conversion experiences of the saints, is that not what salvation looks like in the end?  

      To surrender the futile attempt to be totally autonomous, independent and in charge, to acknowledge our weaknesses, fears and sins, to boldly step into the purifying and fiery light of God’s mercy and simply let ourselves be loved is the terrifying and saving action which the Gospel bids us to embrace.  As Francis Thompson powerfully discovered, the thing he most feared - being caught by the Hound of Heaven - ended up being the encounter that saved him.  

      We will never find joy, peace, fulfillment and meaning except in the arms of God. This running away and being found, this pursuit and surrender, this mad tussle of giving and receiving constitutes the divine romance of every human life, as God woos all of us home. As the book of Hebrews reminds us, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31)  

      Here is the ending of the “Hound of Heaven”:

      “Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee, save Me, save only Me?  All which I took from thee I did but take, not for thy harms, but just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.  All which thy child’s mistake fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home: Rise, clasp My hand, and come! . . .Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest, I am He whom thou seekest! Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.”

 

       + Donald J. Hying

Join The Flock

Flock Note