In Dallas, my church’s small group spent one summer letting each member lead a discussion based upon their favorite psalm. It was a great experience, both because I learned more about one of my favorite books in the Bible and because I learned about my fellow group members. The psalm chosen, the way it was presented, how they taught–all helped me get to know my friends a little more.
One member of our group was a middle-aged man who chose two psalms and one poem, then had us create a triple Venn diagram to analyze their similarities and differences. He’s a teacher.
All three were melancholy but hopeful, which is exactly my poetry aesthetic. We talked about waiting, and being still, and how to trust God when it seems like there are no answers. We read Psalm 130, Psalm 131, and Nondum by Gerard Hopkins. It’s a bit lengthy, but I encourage you to read the whole thing, paying attention to the longing behind every word.
God, though to Thee our psalm we raise
No answering voice comes from the skies;
To Thee the trembling sinner prays
But no forgiving voice replies;
Our prayer seems lost in desert ways,
Our hymn in vast silence dies.
We see the glories of the earth
But not the hand that wrought them all:
Night to a myriad worlds gives birth,
Yet like a lighted empty hall
Where stands no host at door or hearth
Vacant creation’s lamps appal.
We guess; we clothe Thee, unseen King,
With attributes we deem are meet;
Each in his own imagining
Sets up a shadow in Thy seat;
Yet know not how our gifts to bring,
Where seek Thee with unsandalled feet.
And still th’unbroken silence broods
While ages and while aeons run,
As erst upon chaotic floods
The Spirit hovered ere the sun
Had called the seasons’ changeful moods
And life’s first germs from death had won.
And still th’abysses infinite
Surround the peak from which we gaze.
Deep calls to deep, and blackest night
Giddies the soul with blinding daze
That dares to cast its searching sight
On being’s dread and vacant maze.
And Thou art silent, whilst Thy world
Contends about its many creeds
And hosts confront with flags unfurled
And zeal is flushed and pity bleeds
And truth is heard, with tears impearled,
A moaning voice among the reeds.
My hand upon my lips I lay;
The breast’s desponding sob I quell;
I move along life’s tomb-decked way
And listen to the passing bell
Summoning men from speechless day
To death’s more silent, darker spell.
Oh! till Thou givest that sense beyond,
To shew Thee that Thou art, and near,
Let patience with her chastening wand
And lead me child-like by the hand
If still in darkness not in fear.
Speak! whisper to my watching heart
One word-as when a mother speaks
Soft, when she sees her infant start,
Till dimpled joy steals o’er its cheeks.
Then, to behold Thee as Thou art,
I’ll wait till morn eternal breaks.
I grew up arrogant, assuming I could know the entire truth of God. Now that I am growing up, I find comfort in the mystery and agony, the “abysses infinite surround the peak from which [I] gaze.” I long more and more, not for answers, but for the One who will lead me “if still in darkness not in fear.”
I’m grateful to my Dallas small group for many things, and this poem is definitely one of them.