Lovely in Eyes Not His

Earlier today I came across part of Gerald Manley Hopkins’ poem “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”, and was intrigued enough to search for the whole thing.

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.

I’ll readily admit that I find some of this opaque (and that wouldn’t be a first for me when it comes to Hopkins’ poetry) but at the same time I was caught by beauty in it (and that wouldn’t be a first with Hopkins’ poetry either). It’s these four lines that attract me:

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.

That God sees us – those of us who are His children – as if seeing Christ Himself…. How can that be true? Yet Jesus Himself prays to the Father, “And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26) and Paul tells us that we are “accepted in the beloved”. Can God really see loveliness in me, look at me and see His Son?

It reminds me of what C. S. Lewis wrote in his essay “The Weight of Glory”, speaking of our future glory: “To please God . . . to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness . . . to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son–it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.”

Hard as I find it to believe, this is not just true of our future in glory, but true now. God can look on me with pleasure because He sees Christ reflected in me–and not reflected because I am some sort of super holy Christian (far from it!) but simply because I am, as the theologians say–as Paul himself would say–united to Christ. God can’t see me without seeing His Son in me. And the Father is never anything but well pleased with the Son. God still sees all my ugliness, all my sin, of course, but He can see beyond that, to His lovely Son, and somehow some of Christ’s beauty covers me, and the Father can smile at us both.

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