Surrounded By God’s Immeasurable Beauty
By Gerard Manley Hopkins 1844–1889
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:
The day began this morning with gray skies and mist. The morning doves were cooing in a tree across the street and the village was just beginning to slowly wake up on this summer Friday morning. I had gone out to get a copy of the International Herald Tribune and had a coffee and croissant at a local cafe. When I got back to my hotel room to do my writing for the day, I found this video and it struck me profoundly with the joy of God’s creation.
The film is done by two young women out in a canoe on a gray and moist day. They are bundled against the cold, but happy to be on an adventure together. They are full of the joy of life that is so common to youth, but they had no idea what they were about to witness.
One of them is filming and you hear the other say “Look up!” The camera points upward and catches one of nature’s wonders, one of its mysteries, a flight of starlings, thousands of them in the air together, making swirling patterns. Living art in the sky. This kind of behavior even has a name, a lovely name at that. It is called a murmuring.
How these birds do this is still unknown to science. The speed and accuracy of their flight’s changing formations, undulating in perfect harmony into constantly changing, swirling patterns, provides an experience of true awe for these two young women and, in watching their faces and listening to their own “murmurings” of surprised laughter gave me the same experience of serendipitous awe. It is stunning to witness this starling murmuring, but more so given where they were—in a small canoe out in open sea, under gray skies. It was if they were given this beauty uniquely. They were completely alone together in this experience, but thankfully, in this modern age, one of them had a video camera and the wits about her to film this awesome event to share it with all of us. (Continue reading below the video)
It made me think of the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins above as well. The poem records the poet’s own awe at the wild beauty of nature. His awe is well placed too. He recognizes that this beauty is pure gift from a loving God. It recognizes the glorious mind of the God of creation who fills all of his creation, at every moment, with the force and beauty of his love. He recognizes the Fatherly love of God in the last line, ” He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him!”
Hopkins, the skilled poet can only bring the force of individual words, each full of awe, to try to express his awe for God’s creation. The two young women are speechless before that great swirling cloud of starlings and can only manage simple, stunned giggles of holy awe.
We are surrounded every day by God’s immeasurable beauty. How often are we lucky enough to be awake enough to see it, to really “see” it for its majesty? If we train ourselves in prayer and in intellectual curiosity, we will be able to see it more clearly and more often and we, too, will be filled more regularly with the ready, God-given gift of awe.
The natural response of the human being to this sudden, and precise beauty in nature can be nothing less than praise. Though some of us may not be able to articulate it, when we are surprised by wonder like these two young women were, the soul speaks it for us in ways that are beyond mere words. In that brief moment we are touched by heaven’s promise of eternal joy and our souls shout within us, “Glory be to God!” Our hearts are filled to overflowing with the souls natural praise. Thanks be to God!