“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…”
God longs to be in relationship with us, loves us well beyond our ability to comprehend, and yet we try to tune him out, or twist him into something that suits our fancy. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states in its opening paragraph: “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness created man to…share in his own blessed life. God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all of his strength.”
However, all of mankind has also been given the gift of freedom, so that our love can be willingly returned to our creator. This gives us the option to reject God, or to be lured away from God’s heart. Even those of us who consider ourselves faithful will turn from him again and again, by way of pride, or fear, or lack of trust. Oh sure, we say that we believe in God, turning often to him in time of dire need.
We may occasionally, or even weekly, attend Mass or some other form of religious celebration, but we admit (if we are honest with ourselves) that we also “hide” from God, quite often. We ignore God’s desire for a deeper relationship, because it’s just too complicated, or risky, or irrelevant in today’s world. Many of us have, unfortunately, become too self-sufficient for God (or so we blindly deceive ourselves). However, we must keep this truth in mind: God will never, ever give up on us.
The poetry above is the opening stanza from The Hound of Heaven, published in 1893 by Francis Thompson, in the first volume of his work, Poems. The poet expresses God’s love and relentless pursuit of us so beautifully, with candid honesty. Thompson was forced to admit his dislike of the medical training his father had encouraged him to pursue, and vowed to find his niche in the league of writers. However, his disagreement with his father and the ensuing endeavor caused Thompson great anxiety. This eventually led to a drug addiction, and opium became his hiding place.
Thompson spent many months living on the streets of London, until he was reduced to a ragged beggar, banished even from entering the public library. He found a valuable coin in the street one day, which inspired him to purchase some writing materials. He wrote two poems and submitted them to the editor of a publication called Merry England. The editor, Wilfred Meynell, saw genius in the poems, published them, then sought out Mr. Thompson in order to pay him. Finding Thompson in very poor living conditions, and realizing that he had a debilitating addiction, Meynell took Thompson home, and went on to became his closest friend and support.
After getting a doctor involved in Thompson’s recovery, Meynell worked things out for Thompson to make an extended stay at a monastery in the English countryside. Once there, hidden away from the world, with no one to speak to but the monks, the poet had no choice but to stop “running,” and allowed himself to be captured by God. It was slow and humbling work, but fruitful, with a slow but steady return to clarity and unrestrained joy for Thompson. “Today I have been reunited with my Jesus. Words are insufficient to express my joy – and I a poet! Though I became lost, I was all the time in His gaze… Therein lies (man’s) dilemma – to find the joy in the gloom, brightness in the darkness (from The Hound of Heaven at my Heels, a novel by Robert Walton).
Thompson was finally able to ply his craft again, producing beautiful and moving poetry. In 1893, the first full volume of Francis Thompson’s poetry was published, and he went on to write many more. God had found him, renewed him, and brought his gift back into the light, so that he could share his faith journey and love of God (and His creation) with others.
“Rise, clasp My hand and come.”
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Let us recognize the times in our own lives when the shadows fall heavily upon us. It is not the darkness of fear and doom, but the hand of sovereign love reaching out to us. Stop running, make room in your mind, your heart, your life, for the One who loves you beyond measure, without ceasing! Stand securely also in the shadow of the cross of Christ, for in him, we find the love of the Father, and “the truth that makes us free.” (John 8:32)