Friday, November 6, 2009

Free Thinking & The Hound Of Heaven & Francis Thompson

I haven't really posted lately because I'm tired of starting fights with Reformed people, so I figured I'd just post some random/personal theological/philosophical thoughts I've had recently.

I was talking to my brother the other day about life and God (he's an unbaptized Baptist - surprisingly there's lots of them) but we were discussing the issue of knowing God through Nature and Life experience. He's a forest ranger-y guy in northwestern BC almost on the Alaskan border, and one of my heroes.

So aside from what I dogmatically know from Revelation about the possibility of losing one's salvation, I was thinking the other day for myself that if I were in another Church or without a Church that the idea of an irrevokable covenant is kind of nice. I know Israel was a whore, but God eventually gave up on them (ripped temple curtain, and Jesus). But I thought: imagine the beauty of a world where God never gave up on people, most especially when they gave up on him. These heretical but enjoyable ideas were probably seeded in my mind when I was reading Abp. Rowan Williams affirmation of "to understand all is to forgive all". I thought about that for a second (it carries the Greek philosophical idea that all sin is ignorance not willful violation of God's law), but what an interesting possibility. If one understood all the motives behind an act, and the situation and person, etc perfectly, wouldn't anything be forgivable? Isn't our lack of forgiveness just a human inability to comprehend or empathize with others?

I was also thinking about it because while I'm not staking my soul on it, I had a very bad week in terms of Christian living and I still felt like God had nothing but love for me, and hopeful plans ahead that -try as I might- could not be thwarted by my faillure. (I've already mentioned I know this is wrong, I could attribute these to God's forbearance as St. Thomas describes). But it reminded me of Francis Thompson's poem (a Roman Catholic) "the Hound of Heaven", where he pictures God chasing him through his entire life (Psalm 23's 'goodness' and 'mercy' are sometimes portrayed as the shepherd's sheepdogs) until finally he is chased into the arms of God.

I'll just put the beginning and end of the poem here:

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 chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbéd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”


"Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
“And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught” (He said),
“And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
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!”
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!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.” - Francis Thompson (1859-1907) "The Hound of Heaven"

I like his line about all he's meritted in God's sight is but a dingy clot of clay, it sounds like St. Thomas More on merit. I am at least dogmatically allowed to believe predestination is unconditional and without forknowledge of merit. Anyway Thompson influenced Tolkien alot as I just found out. I also found Fr. Henri Nouwen and Peter Kreeft speaking the same way. I don't understand how this works with Trent, etc, but I think we're allowed to believe God's love is unconditional...yet somehow on the condition of Mortal Sin. I dunno, Francis Thompson's poetry isn't really a dogmatic institutino, nor Peter Kreeft, or Canadian priests, but still, it's a nice thought. I think there's a lot of gray areas in both life and Catholicism, and instead of investigating and labelling everything I'm just enjoying thinking of this brother in the faith and his life.

He went from being a seminarian to being a doctor in training, to becoming an opium addict in the streets of London, saved by a caring prostitute of all people. He wrote such great poetry, and was a classic recusant, called a "shy volcano" by Chesterton, and wrote world famous poetry. The Catholic Encyclopedia ends his entry with "Francis Thompson died, after receiving all the sacraments, in the excellent care of the Sisters of St. John and St. Elizabeth, aged forty-eight." It's such a sad story, so much wasted talent, but inexplicably I feel connected to it. Comforted that in the end, he still despite all his addictions and faillure, was repentant. I put him hesitantly in a category I made for an explanation of the people in Catholicism the other day, the 'penitent faillures', and I rest next to him in that group.

May we all find God, even in the darkest alleys of life, and more importantly on the last day, may our souls be found in Christ.


  1. This part made me think of something "Imagine a world where God never gave up on someone even if they gave up on him."

    I don't think this idea is heretical at all, at least how I understood it. One time I was at work looking out the window and saw a coworker I know coming into the building--someone who is living in what we would call an objectively sinful state. But there they were, waking up in the morning, eating breakfast, and walking into work--God had given them one more day of life; if he had truly given up on them, they would be dead. But the fact that they are still alive demonstrated to me how much God loves them and how many chances he gives them-thousands and thousands and thousands with the hope that they will turn and be saved.

    Christ bless you!

  2. "Jesus is Haunting Me" is my version of this. I have scared off folks with this song. You seem to get this concept - as mindful Christians - I believe, we all should.

    Some folks are uneasy with this concept. Would love to know what you think of my account. The tune is posted on my blog.